Turkey Needs ?Brand New? Constitution

ANKARA (Reuters)–A top Turkish judge said on Thursday the country should draw up a new constitution instead of "wasting time" amending the present charter to bring it into line with European Union standards.

Critics have said the constitution–drawn up under military rule in the early 1980s–lacks sufficient protection for individual rights.

Turkish officials believe the amendmen’s will be enough to prevent a possible rebuke from the EU when the bloc issues progress reports on candidate countries later this year.

But they do not include ending capital punishment–an EU demand which Turkey says is a long-term goal. The death penalty remains on the statute books though it has not been carried out since the mid-1980s.

"Our people…want a faultless–free-from-defect constitution adopted by open discussion and free will," Appeals Court chief judge Sami Selcuk said at a ceremony marking the start of the new judicial year.

"We should not waste time with amendmen’s and meet this just desire," he said.

Nationalist deputies have argued that Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan must be executed before the death penalty is abolished. Ocalan now awaits a European Court of Human Rights ruling on his appeal of his death sentence.

Selcuk backed Turkey’s EU bid in his speech and said the country would gain international respect if it codified a new national charter.

"We should enter the European Union to make history–to take our place at the center of civilization and to achieve contemporary democracy," he said.

"We should appear before the world with a brand new constitution. We should integrate with supra-national law."

The amendmen’s include easing the ban on Kurdish language broadcasting and making it more difficult to outlaw political parties.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s three-party government on Thursday submitted to parliament proposed changes to 37 articles–and lawmakers are to vote on September 17.

Constitutional change must be approved by three-fifths of the 550-seat parliament–and the amendment package has wide support with the ruling parties. Opposition Islamist parties also back the reforms.

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