Embattled Turkey PM faces tough talks with EU

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) is welcomed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (second left), European Parliament President Martin Schulz (second right) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (right) ah
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) is welcomed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (second left), European Parliament President Martin Schulz (second right) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (right) ahead of a EU-Turkey summit at the EU council headquarters in Brussels Jan 21, 2014. Turkey's embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his first visit to Brussels in five years on Tuesday aiming to reboot his country's stuttering bid to embrace the European Union.

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Turkey's embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his first visit to Brussels in five years on Tuesday aiming to reboot his country's stuttering bid to embrace the European Union.

Mr Erdogan's long-awaited high-profile visit to EU headquarters comes as Turkey faces its worst crisis in years amid a graft scandal and subsequent government purge of police and the judiciary, seen by critics as an authoritarian bid to stifle the probe.

Yet on flying in from Ankara late Monday, Turkey's leader of 11 years was greeted by up to 3,000 supporters waving Turkish flags and shouting their backing for his economic and political reforms.

EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks would touch on Syria, EU relations and a controversial plan to reform Turkey's top judiciary body, but that they had no precise expectations.

"We are waiting to see what he says," said one official.

Before heading for the Belgian capital, Mr Erdogan sought to downplay the risk of a crisis with the European Union after officials voiced strong concern about the current state of democracy in Turkey and the independence of its institutions.

Mr Erdogan had insisted 2014 would be a "turning point" in Turkey's relations with the EU, after the resumption of membership talks late last year following a three-year freeze.

But he told reporters before leaving that the government would not back down on plans to reform the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), and that it would move ahead with a "brave" reform agenda this year.

In Ankara, new EU Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Muslim-majority Turkey, which has sought for decades to join the European club, would be pushing in Brussels for a timeline for negotiations to ensure that the process is not "open-ended."

"We hope, we wish and we believe that the process concerning the HSYK will not provoke a serious crisis with the EU," Mr Cavusoglu said, although he conceded that there were "some difficulties" in aspects of the membership talks.

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