Turkish failure to open ports to Cyprus jeopardises EU hopes

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Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union have suffered a blow after a large chunk of its membership negotiations were suspended.

The European Commission proposed freezing eight of the 35 policy areas into which accession talks are divided, because of Turkey's failure to open its ports to Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004.

The move divided Europe, with Tony Blair, a strong ally of Ankara, arguing that the EU should not send a negative signal to Turkey as this could be "a serious mistake for Europe long-term". President Jacques Chirac said France "was in line with Germany and other partners" that the EU "has no other choice".

The European enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, said that the negotiations "must continue at a slower pace", adding: "There will be no train crash. There is a slowing down because of works further down the tracks."

The list of talks to be frozen - which include free movement of goods, agriculture, fisheries, transport policy and customs - was longer than expected by Turkish diplomats but fell well short of the total suspension demanded by some critics of Ankara.

So far, Turkey has provisionally concluded just one chapter, covering science and research, since it began talks in October last year.

Turkish television quoted Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as having described the recommendation as "unacceptable" in a private conversation with the Italian premier, Romano Prodi - though the words were denied by Mr Erdogan's spokesman.

Turkey had been told to open its ports to Cypriot shipping. Ankara has said that it will only do so if the EU ends the isolation of northern Cyprus.