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Merkel wants 'privileged partnership' between Turkey, EU

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(ANKARA) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will insist on "privileged partnership" for Turkey instead of full EU membership when she visits the country next week, according to remarks published Wednesday.

"There are intertwined relations between Turkey and the EU. There are 35 chapters in the (membership) talks. I am confident that 27-28 of them can be taken up and this will really mean a privileged partnership," she was quoted as saying by the Milliyet newspaper.

"Some issues, like institutional integration, will be left out of the scope," she told a group of Turkish reporters, ahead of a visit to Turkey on Monday and Tuesday.

Merkel however stressed the European Union placed "great importance" on the need for Turkey to follow a foreign policy consistent with the bloc's stance.

Germany's objections that the sizeable mainly Muslim country is not fit for membership are backed by another EU heavyweight, France, but Ankara categorically rejects any other alternatives.

"Our position is clear... There is no option for Turkey other than full membership," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin said Wednesday, in reaction to Merkel's remarks.

He acknowledged however that Germany has so far refrained from blocking progress in the negotiations despite its objections to their ultimate objective.

"We do not expect any change in the negotiations. We expect Germany to maintain its stance," Ozugergin said.

Since starting accession talks in 2005, Turkey has so far opened negotiations in only 12 of the 35 policy chapters that candidates must complete.

The process has also been slowed by a row over Cyprus and Ankara's sluggish pace of reform.

Merkel stressed the negotiations remained "open-ended" without guaranteeing an ultimate membership for Turkey, Milliyet reported.

She said she would also push Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a customs union accord with the EU that requires Turkey to open its sea and air ports to Greek Cypriot vessels.

Ankara has refused to implement the protocol on the grounds that the EU has failed to keep promises to ease the isolation of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot community in the long-divided Mediterranean island.

Ankara also refuses to endorse the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government of the island, which joined the EU in 2004, until the division is resolved.

The row prompted the EU in 2006 to freeze Ankara's accession talks in eight of the 35 chapters.

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