Turkey edges closer to EU

A rare euphoria gripped Turkey's newspapers yesterday as editors digested the impact of pro-European constitutional reforms passed by the Turkish parliament at the weekend. Some papers were muted due to the limited scope of the reforms, or because they disagreed with them. But for most in the mainstream, it was enough that civilians had at last managed to rewrite parts of the repressive constitution drawn up under military rule in 1982.

The 16 amendments were presented yesterday to President Suleyman Demirel to sign into law after a 40-day parliamentary marathon that seemed doomed to failure right up until Friday night. Then deputies and their bickering leaders gave in to intense popular pressure. They registered an astonishing record vote at 3.45am on Sunday morning in the 450-seat assembly: 360 votes in favour, 32 against. Almost all the dissenting votes came from the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, which had been angered by constitutional articles threatening to close parties which used religion in politics.

''The people won. The Welfare Party was defeated," said the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, the first woman leader of Turkey's 65 million Muslims

Turkey wants to clean up its image to help a customs union with Europe, a free trade pact which will bring it closer than any other non-member to the 15. The European Commission signed the agreement in March, but the European Parliament has insisted on endorsing the deal in a vote due later this year.

Nobody expects approval to come easily. The assembly has repeatedly called for improvements in Turkey's human rights, especially in relation to its 12 million ethnic Kurds.

The constitutional amendments only go some way towards satisfying those calls, but a European Commission spokesman was quick to congratulate the Turkish Parliament.

The Turks seem pro-European, with polls showing that two-thirds support the European trade pact. The same may not be true for the Turkish security force generals, Islamic conservatives and entrenched bureaucrats who have traditionally stood in the way of reform. Such conservatives argue that the customs union is a latter-day version of the capitulations that helped make the Ottoman Empire the sick man of Europe.

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