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Turkish parliament acts to curb power of military

ANKARA, TURKEY — ANKARA, Turkey - The Turkish parliament took another step in this country's quest to join the European Union by giving overwhelming approval yesterday to landmark reforms designed to significantly curtail the political power of the military.

On paper, at least, this represents a remarkable move in a country whose very existence is defined by the army. The modern Turkish republic was forged by military commanders from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and the army has steered most major political developments since.

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"To be a general here is to be close to God," said political scientist Hasan Koni of the University of Ankara. "The generals must be having nightmares."

But few things are as important to Turks these days as joining the EU. Membership, Turks reason, brings economic prosperity, better jobs, enhanced democracy and the privilege that comes with being recognized as a solidly Western nation.

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Turkey hopes to begin negotiations to enter the EU by the end of next year, but to do so it must bring its human rights and political policies closer in line to European standards.

Military commanders have registered their unhappiness with the EU campaign and with measures that threaten to erode their time-honored authority. The military has overthrown the government four times in the past four decades, most recently in 1997 when it pushed out a pro-Islamic government.

Another pro-Islamic government, under the Justice and Development Party elected last fall, runs Turkey now. But many analysts said the army is, above all, pragmatic and recognizes how broadly popular is the idea of joining the EU.

"We have passed that threshold of the military blocking" Turkey's pursuit of EU membership, said Murat Sungar, the Turkish diplomat who oversees dealings with the EU.

The most significant measure in the reform package approved yesterday involves the National Security Council, a military-controlled policy-making body that shadows the civilian Cabinet. Its secretary-general - normally a four-star general - is often referred to as a parallel prime minister; his powers equal and sometimes exceed those of civilian ministers.

The reform package strips the National Security Council of executive authority and reduces it to an advisory body. It also opens up the military budget to greater parliamentary scrutiny.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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