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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
Turkey debates constitutional reform
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit
Prime Minister Ecevit oversees plans for change
By Nick Thorpe in Istanbul

Turkey's parliament has begun debating 37 constitutional amendments which will bring it more in line with countries aspiring to qualifying for European Union membership.

The current constitution was drawn up by the military junta in 1980 and severely limits certain rights.

Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan
Abdullah Ocalan is on death row
That constitution has been described as a remarkable exercise in giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

It appears to guarantee many human rights, then names situations when they can be suspended - for example, when their exercise is deemed to be against the national interest.

All six main parties in the country have agreed the package of changes in principal.

Wide backing

Among the most significant are the abolition of the death penalty and the right to broadcast in minority languages.

This should finally allow Turkey's substantial Kurdish community to broadcast in their own language.

The death penalty will remain possible for terrorist crimes or in time of war.

No executions have taken place in Turkey for 17 years, but the Kurdish guerrilla leader, Abdullah Ocalan, remains on death row after he was sentenced to death in December 1999.

The constitutional changes are backed by wide sections of Turkish society.

Nine associations of businessmen and trade unions took out full page advertisements in Monday's Turkish newspapers in support of the amendments.

Ten days of parliamentary debate are expected to be followed by a final vote in early October.

See also:

13 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
Nice Treaty
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
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