6 October 2005 Edition

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International News in Brief

EU should not be elite club - Mary Lou

The Turkish Government has accepted terms set by the European Union for membership negotiations to begin and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul flew to Luxembourg for the start of the talks on Tuesday 4 October. The move follows more than 24 hours of fraught discussions among the EU.

Members agreed on the terms of entry talks, after Austria withdrew a demand that Turkey be offered an option short of full membership, a possibility flatly rejected by Turkey.

Austria had demanded that the draft framework for entry talks should be re-written. Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said her country was "listening to the people" by questioning full membership for Turkey.

There is opposition in Austria and other European countries to Turkey's accession to the EU, with sceptics citing Turkey's size, poverty, and main religion, Islam, as reasons to keep it at a distance.

Speaking during the impasse surrounding Turkey's accession Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald said:"Entry must be subject to Turkish adherence of the 'Copenhagen Criteria' on democracy and respect for human rights. Should negotiations begin, it could take up to ten years for Turkey to become a member of the EU. This period must be used to ensure that significant progress is made regarding its human rights record, the ongoing occupation of Cyprus and the denial of Kurdish rights. Turkey must prove to the world and its own people that it is a respecter of human rights."

Commenting on Austria's objections to full EU membership for Turkey she said: "The EU should accommodate people of all beliefs and none. Such an attitude is clearly divisive and seeks to reinforce the notion that the EU is an elite club. Turkish accession should not be used to reinforce Islamaphobia.

"Sinn Féin looks forward to the time when Turkey fulfils its international obligations, and can become a full participatory member of the European Union."

Saharawi prisoners end hunger strike

Thirty Western Sahara prisoners, on hunger strike for almost two months, ended their protest on 30 Friday September. The detainees were arrested in the main Western Sahara town of Laayoune last May during clashes between the security forces and protestors campaigning for independence in the Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out in 1975.

In a letter addressed to the head of the El Ayoun Prison, the detainees wrote: "We the political prisoners are ending our hunger strike" due to "the deteriorating health of most of the Western Saharan prisoners incarcerated in El Ayoun, Casablanca and Ait Melloul (in the south)".

Morocco considers Western Sahara part of its territory, even though the colonial power, Spain and the UN had agreed to a self-determination referendum. Saharawis support the Polisario Front, an organisation that claims sovereignty of the desert territory.

In August, Polisario released 404 prisoners — some held for two decades — under US mediation, a move which led the international community to urge Morocco to reciprocate and renew efforts to resolve the 30-year-old conflict.

Brazilian Bishop on hunger strike

Brazilian Bishop Luiz Flavio Cappio is on hunger strike in an attempt to stop an major engineering project. He has been urged to end his protest by the country's President Ignacio Lula da Silva. The bishop has been refusing food since Monday 26 September and he says he will only eat if plans to divert water from the Sao Francisco River to four arid states in Brazil's northeast are scrapped. Friends of the bishop say he is relaxed but determined to see through his protest, even at the cost of his own life.

The government says 12 million people will benefit from the water project, but opponents argue that the scheme it is designed only to help big agricultural businesses and that diverting water will reduce the capacity of dams to generate electricity.

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