The European Union on Tuesday expressed deep concern about Turkey's security crackdown since the failed coup in July but stopped short of officially freezing membership talks with the country.
At talks in Brussels, EU foreign and European affairs ministers decided that no new sections of Turkey's accession negotiations should be started – an attempt to balance their concerns about the crackdown against their need for Ankara to manage Europe's refugee crisis.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the detention of tens of thousands of people and forced many more from public service jobs in recent months. On Tuesday, Turkey's Interior Ministry said 568 people had been detained across 28 cities in the last two days due to their alleged affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
The EU has watched on because it desperately wants Turkey's help and is wary of angering Erdogan.
The EU has offered Turkey fast-track membership talks, visa free travel for its citizens and billions to help the Syrian refugees now in Turkey to persuade Ankara to stop tens of thousands of migrants from trying to reach Europe.
"Turkey is drifting today. Attacks on human rights and public freedoms, journalists, university goers, parliamentarians are imprisoned," said France's European affairs minister Harlem Desir. "There is a threat to reintroduce the death penalty. That is not acceptable. That would mean a total rupture in relations."
"There will be no new chapters opened," he told reporters, referring to the 35 policy areas that all membership candidates must complete.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said it's important to cooperate with Turkey to fight terrorism, to exchange information about foreign fighters from Europe traveling to Syria and Iraq and to manage the refugee crisis. But on membership, he said, "it's difficult to go further with such a situation in Turkey."
Turkish authorities have arrested almost 38,000 people and purged more than 100,000 others from government jobs, including the armed forces, since the thwarted coup on July 15.
Austria had demanded that the talks be officially frozen and was alone among the 28 EU states to refuse to sign the meeting's final communique.
But Germany's State Minister for Europe, Michael Roth, warned that "we should not in these difficult times close any doors."
Speaking in Ankara on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey wants to be an "equal partner" with the EU and remains committed to achieving membership.
"Instead of trying to teach countries like Turkey a lesson, the EU should have the mindset to solve the problems that we face," he said.
Turkey began membership talks in October 2005, but they have moved at snail's pace and are now virtually frozen in all but name.
Ankara has started negotiations in 15 of the 35 chapters. Only one chapter – science and research – has been closed. Eight chapters will not be opened and none can be closed until Turkey officially applies its agreement on closer ties with the EU to Cyprus.
The Greek Cypriot government and Turkey have been feuding since Turkish troops annexed the northern third of the Mediterranean island in 1974 in response to an Athens-backed coup.
In their final statement, agreed without Austria, the EU ministers called on Turkey to "urgently address the many serious shortcomings," and said targeting journalists, academics and lawmakers "are extremely worrying developments" that weaken the rule of law and respect for human rights. [AP]