Turkey Unveils Latest EU Reform Package

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s government asked parliament on Thursday to approve a set of reforms designed to meet European Union membership criteria–but some observers said the legislation left key issues on the back burner.

Muslim Turkey is the only EU candidate yet to start membership talks because of its poor human rights record and slow progress on reforms. One reform was left out of the package as a concession to the powerful–staunchly secular military.

Ankara wants to push through all the political reforms sought by Brussels this year so it can implement them in time for a progress review in late 2004–when it hopes to win a date to begin entry talks.

"The government has sent (the draft) to parliament–and I don’t believe there will be an issue with its passage,” Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said in an interview with CNN Turk television.

This package–unlikely to be the last–includes a range of reforms–such as allowing parents to give their children Kurdish names and allowing private broadcasters to use Kurdish.

Hard-liners fear expanding cultural rights for minority Kurds will revive a Kurdish separatist revolt in the southeast.

The package did little to address critical issues such as limiting the role of the armed forces in politics and establishing an independent judiciary–one EU diplomat told Reuters.

"The reforms do not run deep enough. It’s a patchwork of provisions–and the EU expects more dramatic action this year.”

Newspapers reported that the military sparred with the government over some proposals–including changes to the anti-terrorism law and allowing foreign observers to monitor elections.

Those items remain in the draft–but a measure that would have allowed places of worship in private homes was dropped.

The military sees itself as the guardian of secularism and is suspicious of the ruling party–which has its roots in a banned Islamist movement but now embraces a pro-Western platform.

The legislation must wind through parliament’s committees before reaching the general assembly. Turkey needs to pass a swathe of legislation to meet political criteria before October when Brussels issues its next progress report.

The EU has welcomed a series of Turkish reform packages but has repeatedly criticized the failure to implement laws aimed at eliminating torture or expanding freedom of speech.

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