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Turkey backs end to death penalty

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has objected to any early poll
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has objected to any early poll  

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey is one step away from voting to abolish the death penalty in what is seen as an important step towards its ambition of joining the European Union.

Abolition of the death penalty, except in times of war or near war, is the first clause of a wider reform package being debated by parliament on Friday and Saturday.

The death penalty clause has already been approved with 256 votes in favour, 162 against, and one abstention.

The full package of reforms is expected to be voted on in parliament on Saturday.

The measure would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, although capital punishment would remain for use in times of war or at times when there is a threat of war.

The package is being rushed through parliament by pro-EU forces who want to complete the reforms before campaigning starts for a general election on November 3 that was officially called on Wednesday.

The EU wants to see reforms passed and implemented before it sets a date for the talks.

Turkey's membership ambitions could be discussed when the EU meets in Copenhagen in December to decide on admitting up to 10 mainly east European countries to the bloc in 2004 or 2005.

Markets are hoping progress toward EU membership will help attract the foreign investment that could haul Turkey's economy out of recession and bolster a $16 billion IMF loan programme.

Stocks and the Turkish lira rose on Friday amid hopes the reforms will pass.

The package is supported by all but one of the parties in parliament.

Only the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), the largest party with 126 of the 550 seats, opposes some of the measures.

The death penalty has not been implemented since 1984 under a de facto moratorium but remains on the statute book.

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan was sentenced to death in June 1999, although he has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the decision.


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