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Europe

Schröder Criticizes Turkish Democracy

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Wednesday criticized Turkey for a string of deficiencies in its democracy, urging the country to correct them if it wants to join the European Union.

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A Turkish journalist protesting threats to press freedom

"Mistreatment by security forces, limits on freedom of expression and discrimination against women are incompatible with our common values," Schröder said at a speech at Marmara University after official talks in Ankara.

The German leader also spoke of the "necessity of reform" in religious freedoms in this mainly Muslim country, specifically mentioning a meeting earlier in the day with the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Turkey is under pressure to remove legal obstacles for non-Muslim religious foundations to fully exercise their property rights and to reopen a Greek Orthodox seminary in Istanbul closed down more than 30 years ago.

Schröder, who was receiving an honorary doctorate from the university, called on Ankara to address problem areas before it begins accession talks with the European bloc on Oct. 3 and urged it to swiftly implement reforms it has already adopted to achieve European norms.

Turkey "should not diminish its efforts," he said. "Turkey has achieved many reforms so far but there is still much to do."

Investigating Armenian killings

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder (l) und der türkische Ministerpräsident Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Chancellor Schröder (l) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r)

Earlier on Wednesday, Schröder told reporters after meeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the EU is determined to open accession talks with Turkey on time.

He brushed aside concerns that a May 29 referendum in France on the European constitution could undermine Turkey's bid.

"No referendum anywhere in Europe will affect Turkey's EU process," he said.

Schröder also backed a Turkish proposal to Armenia to create a joint commission of historians to study allegations that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide against their Armenian subjects during World War I.

"We want Turkish-Armenian relations to improve," Schröder said. "Germany is ready to do its best to help in this issue and open its archives."

Germany and the Ottoman Empire, from which the present-day Turkish Republic was born, were allies during World War I, when the Armenian massacres occurred.

Turkey has come under mounting international pressure to recognize the 1915-1917 killings as genocide; some EU politicians, including the German opposition, argue that Ankara should address the genocide claims if it wants to join the European bloc.

Erdogan, meanwhile, denounced an appeal issued by the German parliament last month calling on Ankara to face up to its history. He said he "conveyed our serious concerns and expectations" on the issue to Schröder.

Support in Cyprus conflict

Volksabstimmung Zypern Plakat Ja Türkisch Polizist

A Turkish Cypriot policeman stands next to a referendum banner that reads: "Yes" in the Turkish part of Nicosia, Cyprus, April 22, 2004. Greek Cypriots, however, voted overwhelmingly against a UN-sponsored reunification plan.

The two leaders said they also discussed the Cyprus conflict, a major stumbling block to Turkey's EU membership bid. Schröder pledged he would work for the release of a 259-million euro (335-million dollar) EU aid package earmarked for the breakaway Turkish Cypriot community and the activation of measures aimed at easing trade restrictions imposed on the island's Turkish sector.

The EU promised the aid last year as a reward for the strong support Turkish Cypriots gave to a UN peace plan, which was killed off due to an overwhelming "no" by the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot side. The measures have been blocked, however, because of opposition by the Greek Cypriots, who joined the EU last year.

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