EU Scolds Turkey over Police Clampdown

The highest-level visit to Turkey by EU leaders since Ankara was given the go-ahead for accession talks began with European officials condemning police violence against women protestors in Istanbul.

The European Union lashed out at Turkey on Monday over a police clampdown on a women's demonstration as it urged the EU hopeful country to press ahead with democratic reforms and improve its ties with bloc member Cyprus.

The highest-level visit by EU leaders since Turkey was given the green light for accession talks in December got off to a sour start when the delegation harshly condemned the "disproportionate" use of force by police at a demonstration Sunday in Istanbul meant to mark International Women's Day.

"We were shocked by images of the police beating women and young people demonstrating in Istanbul," said the statement, issued in Brussels shortly after the EU officials went into talks here with Turkish counterparts to prepare the ground for the start of accession talks on October 3.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul expressed "sorrow" and announced that a probe was launched into the conduct of the police who used truncheons and pepper gas to disperse what was described as an illegal gathering. Television footage showed officers hitting demonstrators with batons and kicking women who had fallen to the ground.

Clampdown damaging to Turkey's image

"It's not good for Turkey's perception in Europe, it's not good for the Turkish people either," Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told a joint news conference with Gul. In remarks later, Rehn said it would have been "more encouraging" if Ankara had acted immediately after the unrest and before the EU criticism.

"It's a matter of credibility of the reform process in Turkey," he said. "But nevertheless I find it positive that the Turkish government said today it would take action."

Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, however, struck a defiant note, saying that the tolerance of security forces had limits.

"When police in EU countries confront anti-globalization activists, surely they do not greet them with flowers," he said.

Pace of reform must be maintained

The so-called EU troika delegation also included Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg (photo), which currently holds the EU presidency, and Minister for Europe Denis MacShane of Britain, which will take over the presidency on July 1. Asselborn praised the reforms Turkey has undertaken to align itself with EU norms, but stressed that "the pace of reform should be maintained."

He urged Ankara to expand the rights of its non-Muslim communities and Kurdish minority, ensure that enhanced measured against torture are enacted country-wide, and tackle regional economic disparities.

Cyprus impasse on agenda

Turkey's refusal to recognize EU member Cyprus was also high on the agenda. The EU has conditioned the opening of accession talks on the signing of a protocol by Ankara that would extend an already-existing Turkey-EU association agreement to cover 10 new members, including Cyprus, which joined the bloc last May. Gul reiterated that Ankara would sign the protocol "in time."

Ankara maintains that updating the agreement will not signify formal endorsement of the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government.

Cyprus has been divided between its Greek and Turkish communities since 1974, when Turkey occupied the north after a Greek Cypriot coup seeking to unite the Mediterranean island with Greece. Turkey believes the Greek Cypriots are using Ankara's EU bid to extract more concessions in the Cyprus conflict.

The Greek Cypriots last April rejected a UN peace plan aimed at reuniting the island before it joined the EU, although the Turkish Cypriots gave the plan overwhelming support. The result ensured that only the Greek Cypriots joined the bloc.

Rehn reiterates promises of aid

Rehn sought to soothe Ankara's frustrations over Brussels' failure to fulfill pledges made for financial aid and eased trade restrictions to the Turkish Cypriots after their support for the UN peace effort.

He said he was "reasonably confident" that progress on the promised measures would be achieved this spring and pledged support for efforts to bring the two Cypriot sides back to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict.

Deutsche Welle staff


For more information on the issue, see our Europe and Turkey dossier.