Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will not back down on a controversial reform of the country's judiciary. Visiting Brussels, he dismissed EU concerns that judges' powers were being compromised.
Speaking at a news conference after meeting senior officials in Brussels on Tuesday, Erdogan said he would not give ground over EU concerns about the proposed change.
The Turkish premier said he would go ahead with the plan to reform Turkey's top judicial body, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to transfer several powers from the HSYK to politicians, including the appointment of judges.
"The judiciary should not go beyond its defined mission and mandate," said Erdogan, who was visiting EU headquarters for the first time in five years. "This is what we're doing. Anything else is misinformation and disinformation."
"Certain recommendations have been made by our European friends and we have taken them into account." The meeting was described by all parties as "lively."
'Plot to destabilize government'
The controversy comes amid a high level crackdown by police and prosecutors on alleged corruption, in which 24 people - some viewed as allies of Erdogan - were arrested in December. They included the sons of three ministers and the chief executive of state-run financial institution Halkbank.
The government claims the investigation is part of a plot by a rival Islamic faction, known as the Gulen movement, to destabilize the government, and hundreds of police and prosecutors involved in the probe have been sacked.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he had urged Erdogan "not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner."
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he had "a very frank and open exchange" about the situation in Turkey. "I said whatever the problems are, the solutions must be within the limits of European standards," said Barroso.
In a report on Tuesday, the group Human Rights Watch said the AKP had demonstrated "growing intolerance of political opposition, public protest and critical media."
Erdogan has insisted that 2014 will be a "turning point" in Turkey's relations with the EU; membership talks - which had been on hold for three years - were resumed late last year.
Turkeyfirst tried to join the European bloc in 1959, although formal membership talks only began in 2005.
rc/slk (AFP, dpa)