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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 00:24 GMT
EU tells Turks to speed up reform
Prime Minister Erdogan
Erdogan said the EU was trying to delay accession talks
The European Union is to ask Turkey to improve human rights and limit the military's role in politics.

A draft annual progress report on Turkey shows that recent reforms have produced limited practical effects.

The European Commission report, due out on Wednesday, is a key step in Turkey's bid to start EU entry talks in 2005.

But there has been a mixed reaction in Ankara, with officials saying implementation of reforms will be accelerated in the coming year.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the EU was trying to create a false pretext for delaying the start of accession talks.

But Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told the BBC he was aware of deficiencies in the implementation process.

"Of course there is work to be done on it," he said. "We say ourselves that it is very important to enact the laws but that it is even more important to implement them."

The 133-page report says that torture still persists in many prisons, and mentions important judicial decisions with respect to torture which have not been implemented.

It praises Turkey's determination in passing four packages of politically sensitive reforms, but says implementation has been slow and uneven.

Hurdles remain for the country's large Kurdish minority, as laws giving them the right to study and broadcast in their own language have not been applied yet.

Another key criticism in the report concerns the continued political role of the military in Turkish political life.

Religious freedom

Although the National Security Council no longer has extended executive powers, the report points out that the generals are still represented on civilian bodies regulating higher education and the audio-visual sector.

The report also calls for greater parliamentary control over the defence budget.

It calls for faster court trials, for a more consistent application of the law in cases concerning the freedom of expression and for more religious freedom for non-Muslims.

The report also draws attention to continued restrictions on the freedom of association, mentioning 500 cases pending against human rights defenders.

It makes clear, however, that reforms are mainly hampered by local administrators and judges, not by any lack of political commitment at the top.

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels says that despite its hard-hitting contents the report is likely to bolster the government's own Reform Monitoring Group, a team of key ministers who meet regularly to speed up the implementation of EU standards.

After another progress report next year, EU leaders will decide in December 2004 whether to begin membership talks with Ankara.

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