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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 13:12 GMT
EU alarmed by Turkey reform woes
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan
The EU wants Turkey to open its ports to Cypriot traffic
A draft European Commission report raises fresh doubts about Turkey's bid to join the EU.

The draft, seen by the BBC ahead of its publication next week, says the pace of reforms has slowed down and it urges Turkey to ensure freedom of expression.

The report also shows Ankara has made no progress towards normalising relations with EU member Cyprus.

Turkey has not yet opened its air and sea ports to Cyprus, the north of which remains under Turkish occupation.

Finland, which holds the EU rotating presidency, is continuing last-ditch efforts to break the deadlock over Cyprus, which many see as the biggest obstacle on Turkey's road to Europe.

Bid in trouble

So just one year after Turkey began EU accession talks, its bid seems headed for a crisis.

The draft report makes clear that freedom of expression has to be ensured without delay by repealing or amending a controversial article of the penal code under which Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature, and other Turkish intellectuals have been taken to court for their political views.

The report also highlights serious concerns about allegations of torture and ill-treatment, public statements by senior military figures, the rights of Kurds, women, religious groups and trade unions.

The European Commission says it will intensify the monitoring of all these key political criteria for membership. Any serious breach could lead to a suspension of membership talks.

But a partial freeze of talks may become inevitable by the end of the year anyway, as Turkey shows no sign of keeping its promise to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.

The draft report leaves blank the space for recommendations on this sensitive issue.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja is meeting the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, in Brussels in an increasingly desperate attempt to defuse tensions.

Few European countries want to take the risk of a major crisis with their big Muslim neighbour, but if things continue as they are, EU leaders will have little margin of manoeuvre when they discuss Turkey's membership bid at a summit in December.

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