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Most Turks back EU entry despite suspicions

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  • Most Turks back EU entry despite suspicions

    SwissInfo, Switzerland
    May 31 2009

    Most Turks back EU entry despite suspicions

    By Ayla Jean Yackley

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A majority of Turks support their government's
    bid to join the European Union, but most say the bloc views it with
    prejudice because Turkey is a Muslim nation, a new study showed.

    Three out of four Turks believe the EU is trying to divide Turkey and
    81 percent believe the bloc's goal is to spread Christianity, said the
    study by Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, released at a weekend

    Despite this, 57 percent want full EU membership for Turkey, according
    to the study, which also gauged Turks' tolerance towards religion,
    ethnic groups, gender equality and foreign countries.

    "A majority of Turks still want EU membership, but a larger majority
    has very serious doubts about the EU's intentions towards Turkey,"
    said Yilmaz Esmer, a professor of political science at Bahcesehir who
    led the study.

    The study, called "Public Attitudes Towards Diversity, Tolerance and
    Extremism in Turkey," was conducted between April 12 and May 3 and
    polled 1,715 people in 34 Turkish provinces.

    Strongest opposition to EU entry came from the 15- to 18-year-old age
    group, Esmer said.

    One out of four Turks thinks Turkey is either already a full member of
    the EU or is unsure of its status, he said. Turkey has in fact been an
    official candidate for EU membership for 10 years and has completed
    only one of the 35 "chapters" in the accession process.


    Sixty-two percent of Turks said religion was their priority, followed
    by 17 percent who said secularism was. Democratisation was the top
    priority for 15 percent, followed by smaller numbers who cited ethnic
    identity and financial gain.

    "The main issue for Turks is religion and secularism," Esmer said.

    "Turkey has the highest level of 'unwelcome' (attitudes) in Europe in
    terms of whom they would prefer as neighbours, a question used in
    studies to measure tolerance," Esmer said.

    Among the least welcome neighbours for Turks were those who consume
    alcohol followed by Christian and Jewish neighbours, the study showed.

    About 18 percent of respondents said they felt discriminated against,
    the highest rate in Europe, Esmer said. Still, most respondents felt
    that religious and ethnic diversity enriched life, rather than
    threatened national unity, he said.

    Religious extremism and nationalism have remained level in Turkey this
    decade, although anti-Israeli sentiment was on the rise, Esmer said.

    Israel is the most unpopular foreign country, followed by Armenia and
    the United States, the study said. Israel is also seen as most
    responsible for the world's problems, followed by U.S. and EU
    policies, according to the survey.

    Religious extremism was seen as a danger to Turkey by 69 percent of
    respondents. The main threat was perceived to be the Kurdistan Workers
    Party, the armed rebel group that has fought a 25-year war for
    autonomy in southeast Turkey.

    The military remains the most popular institution, while the
    Democratic Society Party, parliament's pro-Kurdish grouping, is the
    least popular, the study showed.

    (Editing by Richard Balmforth)