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Thursday, March 12, 1998 Published at 05:51 GMT

World: Europe

EU Conference marks new era

Leaders of 26 European countries are meeting in London for the first meeting of the European Conference.

The new forum aims to bring together the 15 existing members of the European Union (EU) and 11 countries hoping to join.

The meeting is expected to add a new dimension to European co-operation by providing an umbrella for political dialogue at the highest level.

Turkey will be notably absent. It is thought Turkey feels snubbed by a decision of the recent Luxembourg Summit not to include the country in the first wave of accession to the EU.

At a dinner on the eve of the conference, British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the leaders to Downing Street, telling them the meeting would be a "remarkable gathering".

It is thought the conference at Lancaster House will discuss drugs, organised crime, and the environment.

A combined statement on the situation in Kosovo may also be given.

Foreign ministers will be discussing the crisis in the Serb province and other matters at a lunch hosted by the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, while the heads of state are entertained by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

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