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Turkey drops adultery law to appease EU
Updated: 2004-09-27 09:48

Turkey's parliament approved legal reforms yesterday that are expected to boost the country's chances of starting EU membership talks after the governing party dropped a move to criminalise adultery.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the penal code reform package in an emergency session only days before an EU progress report that will assess whether Turkey is ready to start accession talks.

EU leaders had warned that the progress report, due to be published next week, could be negative if the adultery proposal was included in the new penal code. Opposition leaders and women's groups also opposed the provision, which was backed by MPs and activists within the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development party of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The reform package improves human rights standards and revamps criminal laws, imposing tougher measures against rape, paedophilia and torture.

Conservative legislators' demands for an anti-adultery clause led to tensions with the EU and claims that such a measure was closer to Islamic than European law. "Unfortunately, the debate over adultery has created serious doubts in Europe about Turkey's determination to preserve its secularity," said Onur Oymen, a lawmaker from the main opposition party.

"Even if this is solved, you've created a confidence problem."

The vote came days after Mr Erdogan pledged to EU officials in Brussels that the reform package, which his party abruptly withdrew near the end of a recent parliamentary debate, would be passed in time for the EU progress report on October 6.

EU officials have signalled that the report is likely to recommend that talks with Ankara begin, but have also indicated that it will be years before Turkey could become a full member. An EU decision on such talks may be made at the end of this year.

"I'm hopeful that membership negotiations will start in December and that a date will be set," Mr Erdogan said in a weekend state address.

His party has made Turkey's EU goal a top priority, bringing in sweeping reforms, broadening freedom of expression, giving greater rights to minority Kurds and curtailing the army's role in politics.

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