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Turkey

German Foreign Minister Westerwelle backs talks for Turkey EU bid

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said he supports renewed talks over Turkey's EU membership. His counterpart in Ankara, meanwhile, has expressed concern over far-right xenophobia in Europe.

In a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Sunday, Westerwelle said Germany wanted to boost strategic ties with its fellow NATO member. Talks over the EU bid have made little progress since beginning in 2005, largely because of German opposition and Turkish relations with EU member Cyprus.

Westerwelle now says there is "a realistic chance for progress."

"We want to overcome the standstill in the membership negotiations," he said. "This standstill is not in the interest of Turkey, and it is emphatically not in the interests of Europe either."

Earlier, Westerwelle had told the Rheinischen Post newspaper that "no one today can say if and when Turkey will be ready to join the EU and if and when the EU will be ready to accept it."

Points of contention

Countries wishing to join the bloc must have laws in accordance with the 35 EU chapters. Talks on 13 of the chapters began before negotiations stopped.

"One flower alone isn't enough to declare that it's spring," Westerwelle said. "One chapter alone won't be enough: All chapters should be opened as soon as possible, and the Cyprus problem should be overcome as soon as possible."

Among the points of contention is Turkey's refusal to allow Cypriot planes and ships to enter either its airspace or ports. There has also been opposition from some circles in Europe over admitting a majority Muslim country into the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats party have advocated for a so-called "privileged partnership" rather than full membership.

Xenophobia concerns

In Berlin Sunday, Davutoglu told reporters that xenophobia could be an impediment to Turkey's efforts to join the EU.

"We, as Turkey, are concerned with rising xenophobia and right-wing sentiments after the economic crisis in Europe," Davutoglu said at a join press conference with Westerwelle. "The EU started as a peace project, but the developments in recent years are a source of concern for all of us."

Earlier on his trip, Davutoglu met with relatives of those killed by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU). The group killed 10 people, including eight men with Turkish roots, from 2000 to 2007. The NSU's alleged surviving member, Beate Zschäpe, is currently on trial.

Davutoglu said that he doesn't want just a few people punished but rather the collapse of a far-right "network which threatens the future of Europe."

dr/kms (AP, dpa, AFP)