Some Way to Go Before Democracy Says Erdogan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters)–Turkey is trying hard to meet the criteria set for opening European Union entry talks by the end of 2004–but its democracy still lacks stability–Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in a newspaper interview.

Erdogan–speaking to the New Straits Times during a visit to Malaysia–defended the Turkish military’s past interventions when the country’s fractious politicians created an impasse in the democratic process.

"Turkey is on the path to achieving stability and democracy. It is not correct to say we have full stability–but we are struggling for it and will achieve it,” Erdogan said in the interview published on Monday.

The EU wants the military’s influence reduced–and membership talks have been delayed due to Turkey’s poor human rights record and slow progress on reforms.

Erdogan–who left for Pakistan on Sunday after a three-day visit–said Turkey’s generals had a responsibility for filling political voids.

"During the democratic process–when there were gaps created in politics by politicians–the military filled in,” he said.

"You create a gap and someone else will fill in. And the military has first priority. The military is very respectful of democracy and civilian rights.”

Erdogan–who led the Justice and Development Party to a landslide victory in November–said there was no chance of an Islamic revolution in Muslim Turkey.

But while he propounds pro-Western–secularist policies–Turkey’s arch-conservative establishment suspects him of harboring a secret militant religious agenda.

The military sees itself as the guardian of the country’s secular constitution.

Erdogan’s government hopes to pass a series of laws that will go some way towards meeting EU requiremen’s before taking its summer recess.

The EU also wants Turkey to remove barriers to free speech an increase cultural rights for an estimated 12 million Kurds.

Erdogan is hopeful for membership by 2012.


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