Turkey's EU bid delayed by protest crackdown


Protestors gather in Taksim Square on June 4, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.


Uriel Sinai

It is somewhat ironic that the latest delay in Turkey's long-desired move into democracy comes out of civic-minded protest activity, with European leaders on Tuesday pushing back membership talks in response to the government's harsh crackdown on activists there, according to BBC News.

The talks were set to start on Wednesday, but European Union foreign ministers on Tuesday threw their support behind a four-month delay over rights concerns, said the BBC

The country has spent years in on-and-off negotiations with EU leaders over their bid to join, but this latest round of talks (now delayed) had been the first movement on the issue in three years. 

Turkey has been widely criticized over its response to mass anti-government protests, with Germany, Austria and the Netherlands particularly vocal on the issue. 

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told reporters in Vienna that Tuesday's decision gives the Turkish government a window of opportunity to reconsider "how it handles basic rights for citizens, how it handles the right to demonstrate and the right to free speech."

"In my view this is absolutely necessary because we cannot have a double standard in the European Union," he added.

In related news out of the EU, the Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights watchdog group that includes non-EU states, voted 135 to 88 against putting Turkey on its watch list after human rights organizations raised concern over allegedly undemocratic changes to the nation's constitution. 

Also Tuesday, anti-terrorism police raided 30 locations and arrested 20 people in the capital Ankara for their alleged role in violent protests that have spread throughout Turkey in the last three weeks.

The suspects have alleged links to unnamed "terror" groups that the state-run Anadolu news agency said are believed to have attacked "police and the environment."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims external forces, such as foreign media and bankers, have manipulated citizens and caused the national unrest that began in Istanbul on May 31. Since then, protests in Ankara have occurred daily.

"From the start, some people, internally and externally, have tried to portray the protests as totally innocent and just, and the police as having systematically used force," Erdogan said. "Certain media in Turkey were lead provocateurs. The foreign media took part in these operations." 

So far, at least four people have been killed and some 7,500 people wounded in clashes between protesters and Turkish security forces, said Reuters