Turkish hardliners defiant on adultery law

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Hardline members of Turkey's ruling party yesterday tried to revive plans to criminalise adultery, providing fresh ammunition for opponents of the country's bid to start EU membership talks.

The move was blocked by the opposition party and was not discussed in parliament. However, the latest parliamentary manoeuvres highlight the acute sensitivity of the legislation.

Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's opposition party, called for Turkey to be offered a "privileged partnership" with the EU rather than membership. Ms Merkel sent a letter outlining the plan to conservative European leaders, including the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

After warnings from EU foreign ministers, Ankara had seemed to retreat over the adultery plan. Two days ago the Turkish government and opposition reached a deal over a revision of the country's penal code that did not include moves to make adultery punishable by up to two years in prison.

But yesterday parliamentarians from the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, tried to press similar measures, having replaced the word "adultery" with "unfaithfulness".

Governing party leaders later said they would stick to an agreement with the opposition to submit any changes to the penal code jointly. Eyup Fatsa, an AKP MP, said: "We're maintaining the agreement." But he refused to rule out future efforts to revive the measure, adding: "The draft process is long. Wait and see."

Ali Topuz, a senior official in the opposition Republican People's Party, said: "We told them in whatever form you bring it to parliament, we are going to oppose it and even walk out of parliament if necessary. They are testing our patience."

While diplomats will be relieved that the push to renew the adultery law has stalled, the episode is likely to increase nervousness over Turkey's bid for EU membership.

Next month the European Commission will publish its verdict on whether Turkey meets EU standards of human rights. In a sign of caution, the ECsent a team to Turkey yesterday to judge whether systematic torture takes place there. Turkey's Human Rights Association said it received 700 complaints alleging torture in the first six months of 2004.

If EU accession negotiations begin, they will be the first with a predominantly Muslim country. Because of the size of its population, Turkey would have a big say in EU decision making.