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Cameron angry at slow pace of Turkey's EU talks

'We know what's it like to be shut out of the club'

British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday slammed the slow pace of Turkey's European Union accession talks and warned against shutting out Ankara because of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Mr Cameron's strong support for Turkey's limping EU bid puts him in stark contrast to fellow European heavyweights France and Germany who oppose the accession of the mainly-Muslim country of over 70 million people.

"When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a Nato ally and what Turkey is doing now in Afghanistan alongside European allies, it makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been," Mr Cameron said in a speech to Turkish businessmen in Ankara.

"I believe it's just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent," he added.

He pledged to remain Turkey's "strongest possible advocate for EU membership" and urged Ankara to "push forward aggressively" with reform.

His intervention came amid growing concerns that the EU's failure to fully embrace Turkey is behind a perceived drift away from the West in the country's foreign policy.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005, but it has so far opened talks in only 13 of the 35 policy areas that candidates have to negotiate.

Eight chapters remain frozen due to Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Cyprus, an EU member that Ankara does not recognise owing to the island's 36-year division between its Greek and Turkish communities.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have added to the gloom, arguing for a "privileged partnership" for Turkey rather than full membership.

Targeting France over its opposition to Turkey without directly naming it, Mr Cameron recalled that Paris had once vetoed Britain's own entry into the EU's precursor the European Economic Community.

"We know what it's like to be shut out of the club," he said. "But we also know that these things can change."

Speaking after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later, Mr Cameron played down concerns that Turkey's accession would unleash new waves of immigration to Europe.

"As economies grow and... become more equal, the pressure of (immigration) flows isn't so great... The Turkish economy is likely to outstrip Canada, Spain and Italy by 2025. So in time the issue... will solve itself," he said.

Mr Erdogan hailed Britain's robust support and said bilateral ties were in "a golden age."

He urged stronger backing to end the Cyprus conflict by the year-end and remove a major stumbling block in Turkey's accession process.

Mr Cameron also slammed those who oppose Turkey's EU bid on the grounds of its Muslim majority population and saw "the history of the world through the prism of a clash of civilizations".

The US and some European officials raised fears last month that the EU's reticence was driving Turkey eastwards after Turkey voted against fresh UN sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

Turkey also plunged into a deep crisis with one-time ally Israel after nine Turks were killed in an Israeli operation on a Gaza-bound aid ship on May 31.

Mr Cameron urged Ankara to work to repair ties with Israel, but also slammed the blockade of Gaza, which the aid flotilla had attempted to break.

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