EU tells Turkey progress needed on Cyprus

Turkey needs to urgently push ahead with political reforms and open up its ports to Cypriot vessels to ensure rapid progress with its membership negotiations with the European Union, the EU's top negotiator said Friday.

"There is a sense of urgency," said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. "It is now the time for Turkey to regain the momentum of reforms."

At a meeting with Turkey 's top negotiator, Rehn stressed the need to enhance freedom of expression, respect of fundamental freedoms under anti-terror laws, religious freedoms and cultural rights.

Rehn also said the EU expected to see a "comprehensive action" plan in the Kurdish-majority southeast of Turkey to "enhance economic and social development" in the region.

On Cyprus , Rehn repeated the EU's demand that Turkey extend an agreement on trade with the EU to include Cyprus which joined the Union in 2004. Turkey which does not recognize the Greek-Cypriot government, has refused to allow Cypriot ships and aircraft to use its ports and airports unless the international isolation of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus is ended.

Rehn said there was a "clear linkage" between the Turkey 's membership talks with the EU and the application of the trade agreement to include Cyprus . "We need to see Turkey respect its commitments," he stressed.

Turkish negotiator, Economy Minister Ali Babacan said his government was working with the EU to overcome the dispute over Cypriot ships, but acknowledged "there is a clear difference in interpretation of the requirements" under the trade deal.

Babacan said the government has pledged to push ahead with the political reforms which Rehn said were needed for the EU to present a positive outcome when it reports in October on Turkey 's progress toward meeting EU membership standards.

He assured the EU that tension following the fatal shooting this week of a judge by a suspected Islamist militant would not lead to Turkey sliding into instability, reports the AP.

I.L.