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Turkish president rejects EU demands

Jane McIntoshMay 6, 2016

A day after his prime minister resigned, Turkey's president has spoken out against the EU's demands for changes to terror laws. He also said Turkey urgently needs a new constitution and a presidential system.

Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul
Image: Reuters/M. Sezer

In a speech broadcast live on television, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan drew particular attention to one of the EU requirements for Turkish citizens to be allowed visa-free travel into the Schengen area.

Erdogan said Turkey would not reform its anti-terrorism legislation for the sake of visa-free travel for its citizens to Europe.

There are five issues left out of an original list of 72 from the EU for Turkey to address. The most contentious is "revising the legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards."

"We will go our way; you go yours," Erdogan said, addressing an inauguration ceremony in Istanbul on Friday. "The EU is telling us to change our law on combating terrorism. [They] are allowing terrorists to raise tents and then [they] come with requirements."

Erdogan was referring to a tent raised by supporters of the outlawed PKK near the European Council building in Brussels.

Turkey has been accused by rights groups of using its broad anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent. Journalists and academics critical of the government have been detained and put on trial. The government claims the laws are essential for its fight against Kurdish militants and threats from the self-declared "Islamic State."

Turkish armored cars in the town of Nusaybin near the Syrian border where conflict with the PKK has been reported
Turkish armored cars in the town of Nusaybin near the Syrian border where conflict with the PKK has been reportedImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

The European Parliament is due to vote on a proposal for 80 million Turkish citizens to be able to travel freely in the Schengen zone. The other issues which the EU wishes to see resolved by Turkey relate to measures to prevent corruption, data protection in line with EU standards, cooperation with the EU law enforcement agency Europol and judicial cooperation on criminal matters with all EU member states.

Germany said it expects Turkey to keep to the deal it made with the European Union to house and provide care for Syrian refuges in exchange for visa-free travel to the EU, assuming Turkey meets conditions set out by the 28-member bloc, and at least 3 billion euros.

"The EU and Germany will continue to fulfil all their obligations under the agreement and we expect this from the Turkish side as well," German government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters in Berlin.

New presidential powers

Erdogan also said a new constitution and a presidential system, giving greater powers to the president, should be put to a referendum "as soon as possible." He said they were urgent requirements, not his personal agenda.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he would step aside later this month as leader of the ruling AK Party, and therefore as prime minister. The move comes after weeks of rising tension between Davutoglu and Erdogan. It was Davutoglu who had negotiated the migration deal with Europe and made commitments on behalf of Turkey to reach the agreement on visa-free travel.

Erdogan, whose role as president is supposed to be apolitical, defended his involvement in domestic politics.

"Some are disturbed by me monitoring closely the developments related to the party... What can be more natural than this?" he asked during his speech made in Istanbul.

President Erdogan with former Prime Minister Davutoglu
President Erdogan with former Prime Minister DavutogluImage: Reuters/M. Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace

Davutoglu's departure consolidates Erdogan's power as head of state in Turkey. The president has been highly critical of the EU in the past.

The AKP is due to meet on May 22 at an extraordinary congress to decide on who will replace Davutoglu as prime minister.

Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, a close Erdogan ally, appears to be the president's current preference although the names of others close to the president such as government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and his son-in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, have also been raised as possible replacement prime ministers.

jm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)