EU condemns attack by police in Istanbul

Posted in Europe | 08-Mar-05 | Author: Graham Bowley| Source: International Herald Tribune

A woman tries to escape from riot policemen during a demonstration in Istanbul. The European Union (EU) has voiced shock and concern at the 'disproportionate' use of force by Turkish police to clamp down on a demonstration in Istanbul ahead of International Women's Day.
Women's rights supporters are beaten

BRUSSELS The European Union issued an official condemnation Monday after the beatings by the police of women and young people at a demonstration in Istanbul for International Women's Day.

Abdullah Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, expressed his "sorrow at the incidents that occurred during an illegal demonstration in Istanbul."

Gul said at a press conference in Istanbul: "Everyone must abide by the law, but when they don't, the police must be very careful in the way they react."

Earlier, the EU had warned about "disproportionate force used against demonstrators."

More than 60 people were detained when the riot police broke up one of several demonstrations Sunday in Istanbul ahead of International Women's Day on Tuesday.

The police ordered the 150 people in the group, gathered in front of the mayor's office in the European quarter of the city, to disperse on the ground that the rally was illegal, but the protesters refused, the Anatolia news agency said. The NTV news channel showed officers using truncheons and pepper gas against the protesters and hauling those detained onto buses.

The beatings are likely to raise sensitivities across Europe and cast a shadow over Turkey's long-running - and highly sensitive - campaign to join the EU.

Opposition to Turkish membership has run high in several countries, including France, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. Official talks between Istanbul and Brussels on Turkish accession to the EU are due to begin on Oct. 3.

The incident could prove especially sensitive in France where, according to officials, the French government has been trying to "keep quiet" any controversy about Turkish accession to the EU ahead of a referendum in France on May 29 on the new European constitution.

According to polls at the end of last year, a majority of French voters oppose Turkish membership. The French government fears these voters may use the constitutional referendum to signal their displeasure at the EU's willingness to embrace a large, mainly Muslim country where there are still questions about democracy and the rule of law.

On Monday, the EU responded with an official reprimand for Istanbul.

"On the eve of a visit by the EU during which the rights of women will be an important issue, we are concerned to see such disproportionate force used against demonstrators. We ask the Turkish authorities to carry out an investigation into this event to prevent similar incidents in the future," the EU said in a joint statement by the European Commission, the Luxembourg government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, and the British government.

Britain will hold the EU's presidency in the second half of this year and so will oversee the start of what are expected to be tough accession negotiations with Turkey. Representatives of this EU troika were in Turkey on Monday for talks with the Turkish government.

At a summit meeting in December, EU leaders decided to begin accession negotiations with Turkey on Oct. 3. The decision marked the culmination of a long campaign by Ankara to win support for its bid to join the EU.

Several countries argued that Turkey had still not carried out sufficient reforms to bring it into line with West European nations. They feared that inviting Turkey - poor and largely rural - into the EU would prove an insupportable financial burden and could lead to massive migration of Turkish workers to the West.

However, supporters such as Britain argued that the EU should take in Turkey to bolster reforms by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and to show EU could accept a Muslim country, an important signal that would help in the war on terror and help foster peace in the wider Muslim world.

However, since securing the date for talks to begin, Turkey has slowed its reformist drive, EU officials warned last week.

Erdogan has denied that the pace of reforms has slowed. But over the weekend, in a visit to Turkey, Olli Rehn, EU commissioner for enlargement, urged the government to strengthen minority and women's rights - including in the mainly Kurdish southeast - and to bolster freedom of expression.

"It is important that the momentum of the reforms is kept up, that Turkey keeps up the momentum of the legal, political and also increasingly of the economic reforms, especially as regards to implementation of these reforms," Rehn told reporters.

The EU is drawing up a framework for negotiations, outlining the political and economic steps Turkey still has to take. The framework will be published in June, Rehn said.

"The work will have to go on, the reforms have to be consolidated," Rehn added. "This means that we will continue monitoring and we will support the reform work done by Turkey to make the rule of law apply in all walks of life in all areas of Turkey."

A key condition, agreed in December, for talks to begin is that Turkey should politically recognize Cyprus.

The EU is requiring that Ankara extend a customs agreement that it holds with 15 EU countries to the 10 new nations that joined the EU in May, including Cyprus.

But recognition of Cyprus is politically sensitive in Turkey and the government has failed to sign the new agreement. This has prompted the EU to warn that the start of talks could be delayed past October.

Rehn said that Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, had given private assurances that Turkey would sign the so-called Ankara Protocol by October.

The EU expanded to 25 countries from 15 in May. Romania and Croatia are due to join in the next couple of years.