German election: Turkey closely monitors

Turkey is closely watching German election on Sunday, fearing that a victory by conservative challenger Angela Merkel could trouble the country's membership process in the European Union.

Turkish politicians have expressed confidence that election results would not affect largely Muslim Turkey, and said they hoped Merkel would soften her tone against Turkey if she gained power. But some Turkish newspapers said Sunday that the election results could have serious consequences for Turkey.

Turkey's aspirations for EU membership have become a key issue in Germany's Sunday elections, with incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder backing membership and challenger Merkel favoring a "privileged partnership" without full membership.

Germans began voting Sunday in a crucial election that could see Europe's largest economy change leadership. With polls showing a tight race, Merkel has a good chance of becoming the country's first female chancellor. But it was unclear whether she and her allies would win an outright majority to control government. If not, she could end up forming a "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats, probably without Schroeder.

In Turkey, there is vast support for Schroeder, and Turkish leaders have urged Germany's 500,000 citizens of Turkish origin to cast their ballots. Seyfettin Gurel, a columnist for Vatan newspaper, said a victory by Merkel would start "a new era for both Germans and us."

Most officials have said the talks would open on time, no matter who wins the German elections. There was concern in Turkey, however, that growing EU skepticism toward accepting the poor, Muslim nation, could lead to a slowdown in talks.

Erdogan said in New York on Saturday that some European leaders were using Turkey as an instrument for domestic issues, and said the EU must admit Turkey if it wanted to prove it was not a "Christian Club," the Anatolia news agency reported.