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Rights Watchdog Says Police Violence Rising In Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) - Reported cases of torture and police violence have risen in Turkey since 2007, Human Rights Watch has said in a report.

Under reforms aimed at winning entry to the EU, Turkey has made progress toward stamping out torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

But police violence has increased following changes to the law in June 2007 which give encourage arbitrary searches and give police broad powers to use lethal force, the group said.

Incidents of police torture or ill-treatment are now often reported as happening outside places of detention, such as on the street, during apprehension, in police cars, or out of the sight of cameras or witnesses, it said.

"Turkey needs to tackle its violent and trigger-happy policing culture," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"That can only happen if the criminal justice system holds the police to account for these serious crimes," he said.

A European Commission report last month on Ankara's progress toward EU entry also mentioned a rise in reports of torture.

The 80-page study by Human Rights Watch also reported an increase in what it said was disproportionate use of police force against demonstrators, including a readiness to shoot at demonstrators, and excessive force during identity checks.

It said that a "culture of impunity" lies at the core of the problem.

"Victims of police violence we interviewed frequently told us that the police feel untouchable," Roth said.

The Turkish government says the number of torture cases has fallen sharply due to its efforts.

Turkey's Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin last month made an unprecedented apology to the relatives of a 29-year-old leftist who was beaten to death in a police station in Istanbul for distributing political pamphlets.

The case, which led to the suspension of 19 prison guards, drew wide condemnation from rights groups.

Ankara began EU membership negotiations in 2005 but membership talks have been held back by the continued division of Cyprus, slow progress in EU-mandated reforms, and frosty attitudes in EU countries such as France and Austria.