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`Turkey needs a new constitution'

TURKEY'S CONSTITUTION does not respect freedom of thought, and it must be changed, said a senior judge yesterday in a speech openly applauded by the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit.

"Turkey cannot enter a new century with a constitution whose legitimacy is almost zero, and it must not," Sami Selcuk Turk, chief judge of the appeals court, told a ceremony to mark the start of a new judicial year. His words will resonate in a country where more journalists were jailed in 1997 than any other - 78 out of a global total of 180, said Mr Turk.

Turkey's world has turned upside down since last month's devastating earthquake in the North-west. Greece, long a bitter enemy, seems almost a friend. The European Union suddenly appears ready to welcome Turkey, after spurning it for years, and the judge's speech is a further sign of change. "You cannot erase little Hitlers by not giving them a microphone," Mr Turk said. "Even if we don't like it, the Ku Klux Klan has the right to march on the streets and spread its philosophy."

Turkey's constitution, drawn up after a military coup, loftily proclaims free speech - unless it threatens national unity or secularism.