Page last updated at 20:45 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Duchess accused of Turkey 'smear'

Princess Eugenie and the Duchess of York
Princess Eugenie shed tears after visiting a Turkish orphanage

The Duchess of York has been accused by a Turkish minister of smearing Turkey's image during a television documentary about orphanages.

Nimet Cubukcu, minister for women and family, claimed the programme's "smudge campaign" was timed to coincide with a report on Turkey's bid to join the EU.

The duchess and her daughter, Princess Eugenie, visited homes for abandoned children for ITV1's Tonight programme.

The duchess's spokeswoman said she never got involved in politics.

During the programme, to be broadcast on ITV1 on Thursday 6 November, the royal pair joined an undercover news team to investigate conditions for children in state-run orphanages in Turkey.

This is a valid area of public interest at a time when the UK government is endorsing the accession of Turkey into the EU
ITV spokeswoman

"It is obvious that in this incidence, Sarah Ferguson is trying to leave Turkey in the midst of a smudge campaign," Ms Cubukcu told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

She added that Turkey was already investigating all forms of "human rights abuses and misuses of authority".

The European Commission will this month release its annual report on the progress of reforms in prospective EU member countries, including Turkey.

Spokeswoman Kate Waddington told the AP the duchess did not have any political motives.

"The Duchess of York has never got involved in politics and never intends to," she said. "Her sole interest is in the welfare of children - abled and disabled children."

Tears shed

ITV spokeswoman Julia Fields said the documentary was justified.

"This is a valid area of public interest at a time when the UK government is endorsing the accession of Turkey into the EU, a process which is conditional in part on Turkey improving its human rights record with children."

Pictures from the ITV1 programme Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission, which were released earlier this week, showed Princess Eugenie crying after seeing the plight of abandoned youngsters at a centre in Istanbul.

Sarah, Duchess of York
The duchess wore a wig and headscarf disguise before entering institutions

Afterwards the princess said the experience had made her "so angry", and her "eyes had been opened".

She wore a disguise of a black wig and headscarf to visit a second home, the Saray institution near the Turkish capital, Ankara, where more than 700 disabled children are housed.

Inside, she and the reporting team found children tied to their beds or left in cots all day.

One child, who was not allowed outside, was discovered crawling along the corridor to feel the sun on his face.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK is aware of the human rights situation in Turkey and works bilaterally and together with EU partners to encourage key reforms in this area."

He said a great deal had already been achieved in the country and its government had indicated its commitment to "fundamental rights reform".

"Turkish accession is of great strategic importance to the UK and the EU," he added.

Princess Eugenie's sister, Princess Beatrice, went with her mother to institutions in Romania for the programme.

The duchess, who works with a number of children's charities, had said she wanted to see for herself whether conditions were improving for orphans and disabled children in Romania following a similar investigation by the team three years ago.

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