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Old February 25th, 2013 #19
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Turkish PM asks Angela Merkel for support on EU talks

25 February 2013, 22:18 (GMT+04:00)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday said he had asked visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel for support in Ankara's long-stalled EU accession talks, DPA reported.

Erdogan stressed the close economic ties between Germany, which is home to some 3 million people with Turkish roots, and his country, where he said some 5,000 German businesses operate.

"De facto, we are already in the EU," he said at a joint press conference in Ankara with Merkel, who on her third visit was hoping to stress close ties despite the lingering EU question.

The conservative German leader - who had voiced scepticism about full EU membership for Turkey before her two-day visit - stayed non-committal, although she did support resumed talks.

She avoided mention of her earlier proposal for Ankara to have a "privileged partnership" with the EU, which has angered Turkey.

Turkey - a growing regional player and economic power - has been frustrated with the slow pace of talks and in the past warned that it may instead look to Russia or China as key partners.

Merkel stressed European rights concerns, touching on imprisoned journalists in Turkey and limits on religious freedom. Erdogan replied that those jailed were coup plotters and arms dealers.

The EU talks have stalled in part over Ankara's stance on Cyprus, an EU member. Ankara does not recognize the government's sovereignty over the island's north, where Turkey has stationed 30,000 troops.

Merkel said that if Turkey recognized the Cyprus government, it would remove several hurdles to EU membership. Erdogan said Turkey would seek to resolve the problem "hand in hand" with Greece.

In the years-old EU membership talks, only one of 35 so-called chapters or policy areas - science - has been closed during the past five years of talks with the bloc.

The German leader also pledged that no effort would be spared to bring justice to the mostly Turkish victims of a murder spree committed by a neo-Nazi terrorist group in Germany.

Surviving members and persons allegedly linked to the group are set to go on trial in Munich this year.

Merkel also assured Erdogan that Germany will support Turkey in the fight against the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), declared an illegal organization by both countries.

"We will do everything in our power to fight terrorism," she said. "We are very sensitive to this and following all leads."

German business favours EU membership for Turkey, "a modern and booming economy in a geostrategically important location," said the president of the Association of German Industry, Ulrich Grillo.

Turkey had seen annual economic growth above 5 per cent in recent years. Germany has been the biggest investor there and its main trade partner since the 1980s, the association said.

In Brussels, Peter Stano, spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, earlier said "we welcome the member states' steps to proceed in the accession negotiations with Turkey."

He recalled that, in December, EU members "committed or recommitted themselves to active and credible accession negotiations with Turkey, delivering on European standards and European commitment."

"The member states themselves, they have called for the new momentum, and we believe that this new momentum will be there for the accession negotiations with Turkey this year."

NATO member Turkey's role as a strategic ally of Western powers has grown as it has taken a sharp line against the Syrian regime, allowing rebels to use its territory and sheltering refugees.

Merkel on Sunday visited German troops who are stationed in southern Turkey to man Patriot anti-missile defences near the Syrian border as a sign of solidarity with the NATO member state.

The United States and the Netherlands have also deployed Patriot batteries in Turkey to help defend its border area, where rockets from war-torn Syria have hit civilian areas.

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