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EU, Turkey try to break impasse in membership bid

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission and Turkey agreed Wednesday to step up cooperation in the fields of travel visas and trade despite the deadlock over Ankara's bid to join the European Union.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele and Turkey's EU affairs minister, Egemen Bagis, decided to launch a "positive agenda" that will run parallel to the country's candidacy.

"This positive agenda is not to replace, but to complement the accession process," the EU's executive arm said in a statement, adding that it was "the way forward to provide new momentum to EU-Turkey relations".

The two sides will seek "intensified dialogue and cooperation on political reforms" and alignment with EU rules in the areas of visas and migration, the statement said.

They will also address "important trade issues" which will be discussed in more detail during a visit by Fuele and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht to Istanbul on November 17-18.

Prime Minister Racep Tayyip Erdogan complained last week that Turkey had been treated "unfairly" by the EU in its drive to join the 27-nation bloc.

In an annual progress review of countries bidding to join the bloc, the EU executive last month criticised Ankara for a lack of progress in normalising ties with EU member Cyprus.

Since 2005, the EU has opened with Turkey only 13 of the 35 policy chapters that every state must negotiate in order to join the EU. Just one chapter has closed.

Tensions between Turkey and the EU escalated in September in a dispute over gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus, prompting Erdogan to threaten to freeze relations with the EU in the second half of 2012, when Nicosia holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since Turkish troops invaded the island and occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.

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