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Bush praises Turkey as a Muslim democracy

29-06-2004

ANKARA, AP: US President George W Bush pledged on Sunday that he will fight for Turkey to become a member of the European Union, and praised the country as a Muslim nation which embraces democracy and the rule of law.

He held out Turkey as a model for the Middle East as he met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the start of an official visit to Turkey a day before a summit in Istanbul of the 26-member NATO alliance.

Bush, on his first-ever trip to Turkey, ignored reporters’ questions about the abduction in Iraq of three Turkish workers by supporters of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born terrorist believed to have ties to Al Qaeda. The kidnappers reportedly threatened to behead the Turks within 72 hours.

A White House spokesman, Sean McCormack, said’ “We’re in close contact with the Turkish government on the issue. It is an awful reminder of the barbaric nature of these terrorists, but their acts will not shake the will of free people everywhere.” Bush’s visit to Turkey would focus on ways to strengthen NATO, which he is pushing to take a greater military role in Iraq.

“I will remind people of this good country that I believe you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU,” he said.

Bush said he and Erdogan would discuss “matters regarding the neighbourhood - Iraq and elsewhere.” “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom,” Bush said.

Bush’s meetings on Sunday with Erdogan - their third this year - and later with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer sandwiched a visit to Ataturk’s Mausoleum, a national shrine honouring the father of the modern Turkish Republic.

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