ANKARA (AFP) — The European Union said Tuesday that a legal bid to ban Turkey's ruling party threatened the country's political stability and urged Ankara to accelerate its reform drive to overcome domestic tensions and ease its entry into the EU.
"From the point of view of the EU, we want to see Turkey soon overcome this crisis and the best medicine to the current crisis is to indeed launch the reform process in full," Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said when asked about the case to close down the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
He hoped the case would not have "negative consequences" on Turkey's EU bid, he added.
Rehn was speaking after a meeting here between Turkish officials and the EU's so-called "troika" comprising Slovenia, France -- respectively the current and future holders of the EU's rotating presidency -- and the European Commission.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said the 27-member bloc was "concerned" by the case against the AKP and stressed that 2008 would be a crucial year for Turkey's troubled accession process.
"This year is a decisive year for the reform process, which should not be lost," he said.
Turkey was thrown into uncertainty when its chief prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court in March to ban the AKP for undermining the country's secular order.
The AKP denies the charge and says it is committed to the separation of state and religion. A verdict is not expected until later this year.
The case came at a time when the AKP government was under fire for slackening the reform drive that would ease Turkey's bid to join the EU.
"The negotiations are on track, but their pace could be faster. That depends on... consistent and far-reaching legal and democratic reforms to create a more open society," Rehn said.
He welcomed two key reforms adopted by the Turkish parliament -- one improving property rights for non-Muslim communities and the other softening a much-criticized article of the penal code on freedom of expression -- but said they needed to be fully implemented.
The commissioner said Ankara must continue to undertake efforts ensuring an impartial and independent judiciary, create an ombudsman's office and improve labour union rights.
Rehn said he deplored the police crackdown on workers in Istanbul on May 1, which resulted in more than 500 detentions, and called for an investigation into the "indiscriminate use of force."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said his government was determined to pursue democracy reforms, but stressed that the aim of the talks with the EU must be full membership.
"Maintaining Turkey's perspective of full membership is a sine qua non," he said, referring to opposition to Turkey's accession in some EU countries such as France and Germany, who advocate instead a "special partnership."
French Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet pledged his country would not sabotage Turkey's membership talks when it assumed the EU presidency in July.
"France has no intention of breaking up Turkey's negotiation process... The French presidency will be impartial, fair and objective," he said after separate talks with Babacan later Tuesday.
Turkey began EU membership talks in 2005, but has so far opened negotiations in only six of the 35 policy chapters candidates must complete.
The EU froze eight chapters in 2006 in response to Turkey's refusal to grant trade privileges to Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognise, under a customs union pact with the bloc.
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