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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
EU presses Turkey on Kurd rights
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul (left) and EU's Guenter Verheugen
Verheugen (right) has praised Turkey's reform efforts
The EU's Enlargement Commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, has said Turkey must do more to improve the cultural rights of its Kurdish minority.

"What we have seen so far can only be the beginning," he said on a visit to the Diyarbakir region, in the mainly Kurdish south-east of Turkey.

Mr Verheugen is on a fact-finding tour ahead of an EU Commission report next month on Turkey's EU membership bid.

EU leaders will decide in December whether to open EU accession talks.

Mr Verheugen, quoted by Reuters news agency, said Turkey needed to step up efforts to help displaced Kurds return home.

"I think one should strongly support the wish of people to return to their villages," he said.

Rights abuses

The Turkish military was blamed for widespread human rights abuses carried out during a campaign against Kurdish militants in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kurdish women from Turkey carry a portrait of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest
Kurdish rights have improved since fighting subsided
Tens of thousands of Kurds fled or were evacuated from their homes during the heaviest fighting, which largely subsided after the capture of Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.

Constitutional and judicial reforms undertaken by Turkey in recent years are now under close EU scrutiny.

On a visit to a women's centre in Diyarbakir, Mr Verheugen stressed the need for Turkey to improve women's rights.

"Democracy cannot be realised without gender equality," he said.

Mr Verheugen said that it was important that the reforms should continue.

After Turkey's accession the EU will not easily be able to pursue the current farm and regional policy - Europe would implode
Frits Bolkestein
EU internal market commissioner
In June, Turkey allowed the first, very limited Kurdish-language broadcasts on state radio and television.

Kurds, who form some 12 million of Turkey's 70 million population, are also pushing for Kurdish language education in schools.

The commission's job is to make sure that Turkey conforms with the political criteria laid down by the EU as a precondition for membership. There is much focus now on how the reforms are being implemented.

Mistreatment of those in police custody was one concern that many held about Turkey.

Concern in Brussels

A heated debate about Turkey continues to rage in Brussels, the BBC's Oana Lungescu reports.

EU internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein said in a speech this week that Turkey's accession could make the EU "implode" and would render the entry of other countries such as Ukraine and Belarus inevitable.

In a speech at Leyden University about the decline and fall of empires, the Dutch liberal politician said Turkey would have to change its identity completely before it could join the EU.

After the accession of Turkey, Mr Bolkestein said, Europe could no longer carry on with its current farming and regional subsidies.

Our correspondent says Mr Bolkestein reflects wider public unease about a poor, populous, Islamic country joining the EU.

At least two other EU commissioners - Spain's Loyola de Palacio and Austria's Franz Fischler - are expected to voice their opposition in a month's time, when the EU executive is due to publish its crucial report on Turkey.

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