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EU urges Turkey to respect diversity after dorm row

EU Enlargement Commissioner argued that progress in accession talks and political reforms are 'two sides of the same coin'

AFP , Friday 8 Nov 2013
EU
Turkey's European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis and European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule (R) address a joint news conference after EU-Turkey accession talks in Brussels November 5, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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The European Union on Friday urged Turkey's Islamic-rooted government to respect citizens' rights after a crackdown on mixed-sex student dorms.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said he had raised the issue with government officials during a visit to Ankara, after Turkey reopened talks on joining the 28-nation bloc.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended a plan to do away with mixed-sex student houses which has sparked an uproar in the predominantly Muslim but staunchly secular country.

"More democracy in Turkey means more respect and recognition of diversity of Turkish society. It also means more respect for private choices and life styles of the citizens," Fuele told reporters in Ankara at the end of a two-day visit.

He said the outcome of the current debate was "very important", adding, "I hope it is going to be ended in a way which respects the rule of law in Turkey, which respects private choices ... and also respects the views of those who might have the legitimate concerns here and there."

Erdogan has ordered provincial governors to monitor student residences and speak out against immoral behaviour, in a move which has touched a nerve among those who accuse him of trying to force his conservative agenda on society.

Three-quarters of state-run student residences already separate the sexes, and the remaining mixed dorms are to be done away with by early 2014, an official source told AFP.

Political reforms have been a stumbling block in Turkey's bid for EU membership.

On Tuesday, the EU restarted membership talks with Turkey on one of 35 chapters or sets of rules and standards that candidate states must satisfy before winning entry to the club, ending a three-year freeze.

Fuele called on the government to press ahead with political reforms to keep the accession negotiations on track.

"Progress in accession negotiations and political reforms are two sides of the same coin," he said.

"There's momentum now created with the opening of Chapter 22. We have to strengthen this and maintain it so that accession talks get back on track and stay there for the benefit of us all."

Chapter 22 on regional development is the 14th chapter opened with Turkey since it began membership talks in 2005. So far only the chapter on science and research has been completed.

Turkey's accession talks with the EU have long stalled mainly due to its longstanding dispute with Cyprus, as well as stiff opposition from the bloc's heavyweights Germany and France.

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