Turkey to amend controversial law

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Turkey's government, under pressure from the European Union, will propose changes this week to a law that has been used to prosecute writers and is widely seen as a major obstacle to Ankara's troubled EU membership bid.

Article 301 of the penal code makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness" and has been used to prosecute Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk and many other writers and journalists.

"The change in article 301 ... will be presented to parliament as a proposal this week," Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin told a news conference yesterday.

Sahin gave no details of the proposed changes, but a justice ministry official told Reuters the revised article would make it a crime to insult "the Turkish people" instead of the vaguer "Turkishness".

Also, the justice ministry would have to give its permission in future for cases to be opened under article 301, the official said, a move that should prevent nationalist prosecutors with their own political agenda from exploiting the law.

Tackling article 301 has become a litmus test of Turkey's commitment to reforms for the EU, which opened formal accession talks with the large Muslim but secular country in 2005.

Ankara's EU negotiations have slowed to a crawl amid disputes over human rights and Cyprus.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has recommended that the EU not extend accession talks to the justice dossier until the article has been changed.