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EU's Barroso Urges Turkey to Press Ahead With Reforms

As EU Commission President Barroso heads to Turkey, he called on Ankara to speed up political reforms and prove it is a democracy fit to join the 27-nation European Union.

Turkish and European flags

Turkey's EU bid has stalled amid faltering reforms and resistance among some Europeans

"Turkey should demonstrate to Europe its interest in EU membership" and "show Europe what Europe has to gain from Turkish membership," Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference in Brussels, ahead of his two-day visit to Ankara starting on Thursday, April 11.

"I am bringing him the message of encouraging reforms," he said of his meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

"The EU can only accept a democratic Turkey, a Turkey where there is consensus on democratic values. That is why we are concerned by recent developments, which are something [that is] not normal in a stable democratic country," Barroso said.

"Europe can only accept a democratic Turkey"

Jose Manuel Barroso

Barroso wants Turkey to prove its democratic credentials

He was echoing EU concerns over an attempt by Turkey's chief prosecutor to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate Islamist party of Prime Minister Erdogan, and bar the prime minister from politics for alleged Islamist subversion.

"It is not normal that the party that was chosen by the majority of the Turkish people is now under this kind of investigation," Barroso said.

Barroso said he hoped the constitutional court would make a decision based on law, democracy and respect for EU standards.

"We are looking for a secular, democratic Turkey. You cannot impose religion by force, you cannot impose secularism by force," he said.

Many in Turkey's secular elite believe the AKP is trying to undermine the separation of religion and the state. Recent legislation allowing university students to wear the Islamic headscarf is seen by many secularists as proof of the party's hidden Islamist agenda.

Women wearing headscarves in Istanbul

Turks have been split over recent legislation on headscarves

The AK Party denies this and says the court case is politically motivated.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said he expected common sense to prevail in the court case, which has caused months of political uncertainty.

"Turkey is now an open country, an open society, an open economy. In open countries, the public both at home and abroad can watch developments. In open countries, common sense and rationality have always won," Babacan told reporters.

Barroso calls for reversal of "Turkishness" clause

Erdogan vowed on Tuesday to speed up political reforms required to join the 27-nation European Union after stalling for more than a year amid opposition from nationalist parties.

Barroso also reiterated his call for Turkey to revise its infamous Article 301, which makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness." The law has been used to charge hundreds of intellectuals and journalists, including Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk.

The law was incompatible with "the values of freedom of expression that we have in Europe," Barroso said. A reversal of the law, he said, would have "a major impact in the way Turkey is seen by Europe."

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