Turkey awaits visit by German foreign minister

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will visit Turkey next week to discuss Ankara's limping bid to join the European Union and Cyprus, the Turkish foreign ministry said Thursday.

Westerwelle, who is also vice chancellor, will meet his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul during his July 27-28 trip, a ministry statement said.

The talks will focus on bilateral ties, Turkey's EU accession process, Cyprus and other issues, it added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Union oppose Ankara's EU bid on the grounds that the sizeable mainly Muslim country does not belong in Europe, arguing that it should settle for a "privileged partnership" instead -- a view backed by French President Nicola Sarkozy.

Westerwelle's pro-business Free Democrats, on the other hand, are seen as more open to Ankara's ambitions.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005, but the process has stalled amid opposition from EU-members, the sluggish pace of reform in Turkey and Ankara's refusal to open its ports to Cyprus, an EU member that it does not recognize.

The row over Cyprus has prompted the European Union to freeze talks with Turkey on eight of the 35 policy areas that a candidate country must successfully negotiate prior to membership.

© 2010 AFP

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