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EU ministers set date for Turkey accession talks

EU foreign ministers have green-lighted the resumption of talks with candidate state Turkey. Negotiations have been stalled for three years by political tensions and, more recently, violent crackdowns on protesters.

European Union foreign ministers announced on Tuesday that talks with Turkey over becoming a member state would resume on November 5. The announcement came as the ministers from the 28-member bloc met in Luxembourg.

This will be the 14th of 35 negotiation chapters with Turkey. Each chapter corresponds to a different topic to be evaluated by the bloc in order to assess whether a candidate complies with EU standards and rules.

"A European Turkey is important for Europe and for Turkey," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told journalists in the run-up to the Tuesday's meeting. "This is a sign that the EU and Turkey want to deepen their relations further."

Turkey applied for membership to what was then the European Economic Community in 1987. Progress in accession talks stalled three years ago over disagreements with France and Germany and continued political tensions with Cyprus.

Government crackdowns on mass protests across Turkey over the summer prompted further concern among EU leaders. It also delayed an agreement reached in June by the EU to take up negotiations once again.

A report released by the European Commission last week recommended moving forward with Ankara. The analysis of Turkey's progress, which was included in a larger report entitled "Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2013-2014," criticized Turkey for its use of violent force "in the face of dissent." However, it also said signs of progress would allow negotiations to resume, citing in particular judicial reforms and the commencement of a peace process with Kurdish groups in the country's south east.

Germany backs move

German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Link said Berlin supported the move, as Turkey had "improved in many areas."

"We think this is the right signal to animate the accession negotiations now," he added.

The delayed progress has tired many in Turkey who were once enthusiastic about joining the European Union.

In reaction to last week's EU Commission report, the Turkish minister responsible for EU relations, Egemen Bagis, said the lack of progress had fatigued Turkish citizens and was the reason behind growing disinterest in talks with the EU.

Link expressed hope on Tuesday that the announcement would be "a signal to Turkish citizens that the EU would truly like to open up."

"This way, we will get the momentum needed to also discuss with Turkey the difficult remaining points," Link said.

kms/pfd (AFP, dpa)