Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken of his country's importance to the European Union and expressed fears that the conflict in Libya could turn into a new Afghanistan or Iraq.
In an address on April 13 to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, which was supposed to deal with inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, Erdogan instead took the opportunity to stress the uniqueness of Turkey as a secular and democratic country with a predominately Muslim population.
He underlined that his country had made great economic and political strides, and was critical of the considerable opposition in several large European countries to his country's joining the EU.
"Turkey's EU membership is so vital that it cannot be made use of in domestic politics and elections," Erdogan said.
He also pointed out that Turkey’s quick recovery from the economic crisis, its impressive growth rates in recent years, and its geographical position made his country too important for the EU to ignore.
Turkey received EU candidate country status in 2005 but negotiations to join the bloc have proceeded slowly or have even been frozen in several areas. Key EU States Delaying Turkey's Membership
Prominent EU member states such as Austria, France, and Germany have flagged several issues, including Ankara's refusal to allow Greek-Cypriot ships to enter Turkish ports and the worsening human rights situation in the country.
Marchers in Ankara earlier this year protest against the arrests of journalists. Press freedom has been a thorny issue in the Turkish EU-accession process.
Erdogan, however, was defiant, presenting his country's commitment to multiculturalism and claiming that France's expulsion of Roma last summer showed a lack of proper democracy within the EU.
"Those who try to judge Turkey should also look in their own house," he said.
Erdogan also defended the state of press freedom in his country, noting that the journalists currently detained in his country had been arrested because of their subversive political activities rather than for their reporting.
"In Europe there are no newspapers or journalists who encourage or are involved in coups d'etat," he said.
"In Turkey at the moment, there are 26 journalists who have been detained or arrested. None of them have been detained because of their activities as a journalist."
Rather than focusing on human rights issues, the Turkish prime minister spoke of the need for democracy to follow in the wake of the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Turkish U-Turn On Libya
Claiming that it was "racist" to believe that the countries in the region were not mature enough for democracy, Erdogan called on Europe to support the popular demands
from the region.
Turkey initially opposed NATO air strikes in Libya.
"Europe today cannot turn a deaf ear to the cries for freedom and rights that are coming out of the Middle East and North Africa," he said.
Turkey was initially reluctant to agree to NATO's implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya to stop Muammar Qaddafi's forces and delayed the decision for several days.
Ankara has since then made a considerable u-turn by participating in the alliance's actions in the North African country.
Erdogan, however, warned that the intervention must remain in line with the UN resolution authorizing the no-fly zone and that Libya's territorial integrity had to be safeguarded.
Erdogan added that everything had to be done to prevent a protracted conflict similar to those in Afghanistan and Iraq, which had created "deep wounds" in the Muslim world.
"Any intervention from outside must only be humanitarian," he said.
"We do not want to see new Afghanistans or new Iraqs in the Middle East or North Africa."
Speaking about the unrest in other parts of the region, such as the protests in Syria, where Erdogan enjoys close links to the ruling regime, the Turkish prime minister called for "common sense" to prevail.