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Turkey Urged to Improve Rights

By Charles Babington
THE WASHINGTON POST -- ANKARA, Turkey

President Clinton kicked off a five-day visit to Turkey on Monday by prodding this key NATO ally to improve its record in three areas that have received considerable criticism from the United States and Europe: its record on human rights, its relations with Greece and its treatment of its Kurdish minority.

Clinton, addressing the Turkish parliament, leavened his comments by acknowledging Turkey has improved its human rights record and stressing his support for its application to join the European Union. The 15-nation EU, which has opposed the application largely because of Turkey’s poor support for human rights, is expected to grant candidate membership status to Turkey at next month’s summit.

“The future we want to build together begins with Turkish progress in deepening democracy at home,” Clinton said in a speech in the Grand National Assembly. “There is still far more to be done to realize the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” He said he looks forward to a “brighter future” for Turkey and its neighbors in which “women are treated with equal respect” and there is “a growing respect for human rights.”

Clinton met with Turkish officials on the first full day of a 10-day trip to southern Europe that will also take him to Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo. Later this week, he goes to Istanbul for a 54-nation security conference that is expected to be attended by Russian President Boris Yeltsin as well as senior European leaders.

His stop in Ankara is aimed at demonstrating U.S. support for this staunchly secular Muslim country, a vital U.S. ally bordered on its southern and eastern flanks by Syria, Iraq and Iran. Despite Clinton’s human rights remarks, Turkish officials seemed pleased to host the country’s longest visit ever by a U.S. president.

Human rights groups say dissidents and journalists continue to be intimidated and tortured by police and officials in Turkey. In its most recent report on human rights, the State Department said that “extrajudicial killings, including deaths in detention from the excessive use of force, ‘mystery killings,’ and disappearances continued” despite a 1998 pledge by the Turkish government for improvements.

President Suleyman Demirel, who met with Clinton before the speech and later hosted a state dinner for him, acknowledged that torture remains a problem. “There is torture,” Demirel told reporters. “But torture is not state policy. ... We are doing everything we can to make sure that there is not torture.”