EU commission chief to visit Turkey


Two senior European Union officials will visit Turkey next week as the EU candidate country's ruling party faces trial for anti-secular activity, the European Commission said on Tuesday.


Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn are to meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gul during their April 10-12 visit, which they are making at the invitation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the commission said.


The visit will offer the opportunity to give "support for the gradual strengthening of ties between the European Union and Turkey, and support for reforms which will bring Turkey closer to the EU," commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said.


He stressed that while the visit had been planned "for some time" it came at a "critical moment."


Rehn voiced concern on Monday at the decision of Turkey's constitutional court to hear a case aimed at outlawing the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) for anti-secular activity.


Chief Turkish prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya charges the AKP, which emerged from a banned Islamist movement, is turning its religious rhetoric into action in a bid to establish an Islamist system.


He has also called for 71 officials, among them Erdogan and Gul, to be barred from politics for five years.


Although Rehn did not openly renew a weekend warning that Turkey's EU negotiations could be disrupted by the case, he said: "There is much at stake in the handling of this issue." (AFP)