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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Turkish press agonises over EU bid
Turkish press graphic

Turkey's newspapers are in ferment as the country anxiously awaits the fate of its new penal code - and speculate about whether it will be enough for EU accession talks to begin.

The centre-right Hurriyet, the paper with the largest circulation, says the issue could now be make-or-break for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing AKP (Justice and Development) Party.

Mr Erdogan is due in Brussels on Thursday for key talks with EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen.

"We expect Verheugen to make a friendly gesture to Erdogan, saying 'You are very unlikely to get another opportunity like this, so do not be stubborn'," Hurriyet comments.

It warns that any stubbornness on Mr Erdogan's part would jeopardise Turkey's chances of beginning EU accession talks and would "determine his own political destiny too".

'Political suicide'

Milliyet agrees. It warns Mr Erdogan against "throwing all the existing reforms into the waste basket" by insisting on keeping the clause in the penal code which criminalises adultery.

"If he remains obstinate and burns his bridges with the EU," the paper predicts, "it will be political suicide."

According to the tabloid Posta, Mr Erdogan will have to perform a delicate balancing act to retain the support of hard-line Muslim groups if the clause seeking to recriminalise adultery is left out of the penal code, as the EU demands.

Other commentaries urge Turkey to look forward.

"The European Union is a process of common rules for every country, and obeying the common rules means giving up some of your old habits," writes Ertugrul Ozkok in Hurriyet.

"Call this 'a concession', or call it 'harmonisation'. In the long run, if the aim is to reach a common civilisation, it doesn't matter what you call it."

But another commentator in Hurriyet is sceptical.

"To be an EU member is to be European, think like a European, and accept the values of Europe," Ercan Kumcu writes.

"But let's accept that Turkey, as a society, is far from that point. Subconsciously, we are us and they are Europe."

The pro-Islamist Yeni Safak argues that many Turks do not find the controversy over the penal code reasonable.

"No party or government should take any key decision unless they feel the support of the masses," the paper warns.

'Last opportunity'

Cumhuriyet sees political brinkmanship in Mr Erdogan's proposal to introduce the clause criminalising adultery, and the EU's warnings.

Mr Erdogan has "scored points" with his conservative support base, the paper says.

"Now he will go to Europe and go soft. He will 'melt' at the EU's 'either adultery or Europe' challenge," the paper predicts. "Adultery will not get into the penal code."

The centrist Milliyet says both the EU and Turkey must be ready to compromise.

"Europe's faith in Ankara has been shaken, and an initiative is expected from the Turkish side," the paper says.

"However, the EU is also expected to keep the door open for Turkey. This could be both sides' last opportunity, so it should not be missed."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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