EU Candidate Report Slams Turkish Rights Record

ANKARA (Reuters)–The European Commission on Wednesday said Turkey’s human rights and political standards fell short of benchmarks needed to begin talks on joining the European Union.

The commission’s report–summarized in a statement from the union’s representation in Ankara–shows it sees little progress since it put Turkey’s membership bid on hold late last year–citing very similar concerns.

"The assessment of Turkey’s ability to meet the Copenhagen political criteria highlights several anomalies in the functioning of public authorities–in respect of human rights and protection of minorities," the written statement said.

The assessment of Turkey was one of 12 reports the European Commission adopted on Wednesday examining the progress made by candidate countries for membership.

The report criticized the power wielded by Turkey’s military and Ankara’s attitude toward its estimated 10 million Kurdish citizens–many of whom live in the strife-torn southeast.

"The report…also stresses the importance of a civilian solution to the situation in southeastern Turkey since many of the violations of civil and political rights are connected with this issue," the statement said.

The Turkish foreign ministry urged the commission to re-evaluate its assessment.

"The placing of various unfounded claims and assertions in the political evaluation of Turkey constitutes a false feature of the report. It is clear the EU commission needs to evaluate Turkey more carefully," a foreign ministry statement said.

The report said Turkey’s economy was relatively healthy and showed "most of the hallmarks of a market economy–including a dynamic private sector and liberal trade rules."

It also said Turkey had succeeded in harmonizing its laws with the union’s in terms of a customs deal signed in 1996.

The bloc froze Turkey’s long-standing membership bid last December at a summit in Luxembourg. Ankara then reacted with fury–freezing talks on sensitive issues such as the southeast and the divided island of Cyprus.

Turkey accused the largely Christian bloc of bias because Turkey is a Moslem but officially secular state. Ties improved slightly in June when an EU summit in Cardiff ordered the commission to produce a report judging Turkey by the same standards as 11 other would-be members.

"The commission’s recognition of Turkey as one of the 12 candidates constitutes a new basis for our relations," the Turkish foreign ministry statement said.

Further souring Turkey’s relations with the bloc are a number of territorial disputes with EU member Greece.

"The report underlines the importance of good neighborly relations," the statement said.

Turkey has also been at odds with southern neighbor Syria over water-sharing and alleged Syrian support for Kurds. Syria last month agreed not to back Kurdish fighters.

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