Italy calls Turkey protests a 'serious test' in EU bid

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Protesters clash with riot police at Taksim square in Istanbul on June 11th. Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP
13:41 CEST+02:00
Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the mass anti-government protests in Turkey are "the first serious test" for the country in its bid to join the European Union, and that the excessive use of force against protesters was unacceptable.

"The Turkish government is in the process of sitting a maturity test in the squares and the streets. It is probably the first serious test for the endurance of democracy in Turkey and its accession to Europe," she told parliament.

"Some think that Turkey had passed that test thanks to its dynamic economy but much more is needed," she said, calling for dialogue between government and the protesters.

Its efforts to join the EU formally started in 2005 but have stalled in recent years due over its human rights record and the row over Cyprus, whose northern third is occupied by Turkey.

Italy has said it firmly believes in Turkey's European prospects and the "beneficial effects" EU membership could have on the predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular nation.

"Italy wants a fully democratic Turkey in the heart of Europe," Bonino said.

"Turkey must decide whether it wants to become a mature democracy. The disproportionate use of force and the arrest of 20 lawyers are unacceptable."

Riot police forced demonstrators out of Istanbul's Taksim Square after a night of running battles following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's vow of a "no tolerance" approach to the protests.

"Taksim square is not Tahrir square (in Egypt) and the Turks are not Arabs," said Bonino, adding that the protests have "wrongly been compared to the Arab Spring" but "bring to mind the protests we have seen in our own capitals and on Wall Street".

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The nationwide unrest first erupted after police cracked down on May 31 on a campaign to save an Istanbul park from redevelopment, spiralling into mass displays of anger against Erdogan.

Four people, including a policeman, have died in the unrest and nearly 5,000 demonstrators have been injured.

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