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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Turkey hails EU entry progress
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan wants entry talks to start in early 2005
Turkish politicians have welcomed the recommendation by EU officials that Ankara begin talks on entry to the EU.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul described the decision as historic and said that Turkey was walking on the EU path.

But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the same criteria should apply for Turkey as for other member states.

The European Commission's recommendations are dependent on continued improvements in the country's human rights record.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says people on the streets of Turkey believe that one of the last hurdles to EU membership has just been passed.

The final decision on Turkey rests with the leaders of all 25 EU member states in December - with accession years off.

Mr Erdogan's government has pushed through a major programme of reforms aimed at bringing Turkey's human rights legislation into line with European standards.

Referendum 'unjust'

Mr Erdogan said Turkey would continue to push for the adoption of the recommendations in December.

We want no more than what was done for the 25 members of the EU - that the same criteria and methods be applied
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

He voiced the hope that accession negotiations would start in the first half of 2005.

"Turkey does not want different treatment," he said at a news conference in Strasbourg after the recommendations were made, quoted by Anatolia news agency.

"...I do not suppose there would be any negative approach after today's positive report."

But he described a proposal last week by French President Jacques Chirac to hold a national referendum on Turkish entry to the EU as very unjust.

"This will harm a country's motivation," he said.

"I believe our interlocutors will behave honestly. Otherwise the EU, which is a union of civilizations, will be unsuccessful at the end of this process."

Our correspondent says that many people in Turkey believed that the country had fully complied with the demands of the commission.

'Large consensus'

Commission officials have been reporting on the progress Turkey has already made, along with Bulgaria and Romania.

European Commission President Romano Prodi (right) and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen
Prodi (r) said Turkey would have to improve its human rights record
The decision was reached by a "large consensus" among commissioners, one EU official said, but no vote was taken.

There was also no recommended date to start negotiations with Turkey.

"It is a qualified yes," EU Commission President Romano Prodi told European parliament leaders.

Mr Prodi said Turkey would have to improve its human rights record if the talks were to succeed and warned that Turkish membership was not a foregone conclusion.

It is expected that even if full membership negotiations start soon, Turkey will not be able to join until well into the next decade.

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