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Britain pushes for turkey entrance { July 27 2005 }

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Turkey dismisses early recognition of Cyprus
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels
Published: July 27 2005 03:00 | Last updated: July 27 2005 12:57

Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, reiterated on Wednesday that Turkey would not recognise Cyprus before there was a peace settlement on the divided island. Ankara currently recognises only the breakaway Turkish Cypriot enclave in the north of the island.

Turkey is due to sign an European Union protocol this week expanding its customs union to 10 new member states including Cyprus. The signing is the last condition Ankara must meet before EU entry talks in October.

Tony Blair, the prime minister, was keen to keep one of Britain's main European ambitions on schedule in his meeting with Mr Erdogan on Wednesday. Mr Blair repeated his insistence that the final hurdle to opening negotiations - a customs union to include Cyprus - would not constitute a formal recognition of the disputed island.

Britain has long supported Turkey's entry into the European Union and Mr Blair, who currently holds the EU presidency, has made it clear he will stick to the agreed date of October 3 to begin membership negotiations.

Mr Blair also urged greater cooperation between the two nations in the fight against terror and expressed solidarity with his Turkish counterpart. Mr Erdogan said his country had lost tens of thousands of lives to terrorism and praised Mr Blairís handling of the London attacks.

Ankara's attempt to join the EU is particularly controversial after the rebuff delivered to the European constitution by French and Dutch voters this year, and in the light of opinion polls showing strong opposition to Turkish accession in France, Germany and Austria.

All 25 EU governments need to endorse the start of negotiations. Mr Blair was likely to urge Mr Erdogan to tread carefully as a result. On Tuesday, the British prime minister also met Tassos Papadopoulos, the Cypriot president.

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