Ciller warns of Islamic threat if EU deal delayed

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The Independent Online

Any delay by the European Parliament in ratifying a free trade deal with Turkey would only help pro-Islamic parties win an election due on 24 December, the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, said yesterday.

Reacting to criticism that recent human rights reforms were cosmetic changes to please Europe, Mrs Ciller told foreign journalists she had paid a heavy political price for even slightly freeing up the expression of Kurdish national rights at a time of Turkish nationalist anger against separatist rebels.

Many people jailed would be freed over the next two months as a result of changes last week to Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, Mrs Ciller said. Turkey's Supreme Court also freed two jailed Kurdish MPs, and Mrs Ciller said Turkey would honour any decision by the European Court of Human Rights about four more MPs who remained in prison.

"Turkey has done her part. Now it's up to our friends in Europe to make a historic decision on whether they want Turkey within Europe or not," the Turkish leader said, referring to next month's vote on Customs Union. "A rejection or a delay means the same thing in the eyes of the people. It will be utilised for domestic political consumption by fundamentalist forces."

The pro-Islamic Welfare Party is Mrs Ciller's strongest rival in the upcoming elections. There is no evidence that the party could or even wants to enact the strictures of Islamic law if it came to power, but Mrs Ciller alleged that it would want to limit freedom of dress, behaviour and speech.

Meanwhile, she strengthened her hand as several powerful bureaucrats resigned their posts as required by law yesterday to join her conservative party's lists. Sirens wailed in Ankara as the police force bade farewell to the national security chief, Mehmet Agar. Also stepping down were 's governor, Hayri Kozakcioglu; the city's former police chief, Necdet Menzir; the central bank governor, Yaman Toruner; and the treasury chief, Ayfer Yilmaz.

Some of these are known for hard-line conservative views. But Mrs Ciller said she was planning a "dramatic" party list. "There will be academicians, women parliamentarians, many young people, many business people," she said.