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EU debate on Turkey talks continues

InternationalA heated debate within the European Union over whether to grant a date for starting accession talks with Turkey persisted yesterday as the Czech Republic voiced support for Ankara but a leading Dutch MP expressed opposition to setting a date for negotiations.

Czech Government spokeswoman Vera Duskova said the Czech Cabinet voted yesterday to support the start of talks. The Czech Republic, along with nine other mostly post-communist countries, joined the EU in May.

EU leaders are to decide at their summit in December on whether to give a date to begin negotiations with Ankara.

The parliamentary leader of Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende\'s Christian Democrats said the EU should not promise a date to Turkey for starting talks to join the bloc.

\"Promising a date would diminish the pressure,\" CDA parliamentary leader Maxime Verhagen told De Volkskrant daily in an interview ahead of a debate in parliament on the issue.

The Dutch government will chair a summit of EU leaders\' at a December summit. Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said he expects talks to start in the second half of 2005.

However, other politicians in the Netherlands and other EU states, most notably France, are nervous about giving Turkey a firm date for talks to start, amid fears the issue could influence referendums next year on a new European constitution.

Verhagen said Turkey needed to make progress on human rights issues and said his party wanted the Turkish Parliament to adopt six human rights laws, including freedom of association.

\"A condition for negotiations with Ankara is no more torture. I am not going to bargain about that. I do not want a discussion on whether you can have 10 or 100 cases a year,\" Verhagen said.

He said there needed to be an adequate mechanism to stamp out torture and put the perpetrators of abuse in prison.

Public opinion in the Netherlands opposes Turkey joining the EU and the Dutch government has sought to play down internal differences over the issue within the centre-right coalition while it holds the rotating presidency of the bloc.

The country is home to 350,000 Turks, and the Dutch are increasingly hostile towards immigration, an issue that was magnified by last week\'s murder of an outspoken filmmaker by a suspected Islamic extremist and subsequent attacks on mosques.

Verhagen said his party had not changed its view after the killing of Theo van Gogh, who was critical of Islam.

\"We have always said that religion plays no role around the entry (of Turkey) to the European Union,\" Verhagen said.

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