Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and his two coalition partners have agreed a reform program to prepare Ankara for its long-sought European Union membership, a statement from Ecevit's office said Sunday, March 18.
"The coalition leaders have reviewed the program for the last time and reached full consensus on it," the statement said. "The program, which will be evaluated by the government tomorrow (Monday), proves Turkey's political determination, self-confidence and widespread social consensus on full EU membership," it added.
The program is expected to be revealed on Monday after it has been approved by the cabinet. It comes after a lengthy preparation period often marked by disagreement between the coalition partners, particularly on the thorny issue of Kurdish cultural rights. The EU had called for progress in this area.
Ecevit and his deputy Mesut Yilmaz, the leader of the center-right Motherland Party (ANAP) have come out in favor of meeting the EU demands. But the third coalition partner, Devlet Bahceli of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), has voiced severe opposition to reform.
The MHP argues that Kurdish-language broadcasts could encourage separatist-minded Kurds and fan ethnic conflicts in Turkey. The country's powerful military, which has battled armed Kurdish rebels in Turkey's southeast for 15 years, shares the MHP's concerns.
Turkey was declared an EU candidate in December 1999 at the Union's Helsinki summit after two years of frosty ties between Brussels and Ankara over the EU's previous rejection of its membership bid.
Relations were soured last November when Turkey reacted angrily to conditions announced by the European Commission. Ankara saw the move as an attempt to tie its membership bid to the resolution of disputes with EU member state Greece over Cyprus and the Aegean.
Turkey threatened to "revise" relations with Brussels if the bloc insisted on tying its membership process to these issues. In early December, EU foreign ministers modified the wording of the original text to satisfy both Ankara and Athens. — (AFP, Ankara)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)