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BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have rejected Turkish membership in the European Union in their German election program, saying the country would "overburden" the bloc because of its size and economy.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have long opposed Turkey joining the 27-nation bloc, but haven't stood in the way of EU accession talks that were launched shortly before Merkel took office.
The German line has hardened in recent weeks however because of Ankara's tough response to three weeks of protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
On Monday, Merkel said she was "appalled" at Turkey's handling of the protests, which have turned into fierce clashes between police firing teargas and water cannon, and masked demonstrators throwing bottles and other missiles.
In a draft of the CDU/CSU program seen by Reuters, the parties dropped use of the term "privileged partnership" to describe their preferred relationship between Turkey and the EU, but reiterated their long-standing opposition to it joining.
"We want strong cooperation between the European Union and Turkey, as well as close strategic collaboration on foreign and security questions," the 125-page draft reads.
"We reject full membership for Turkey, because the country does not meet the criteria for joining the EU. The country would overburden the European Union because of its size and the structure of its economy."
Germany is Turkey's largest trading partner in the EU and is also home to some three million Turks, the largest diaspora in Europe.
All of the major German parties are trying to appeal to voters with immigrant backgrounds ahead of a federal election on September 22 in which Merkel will be trying to win a third term.
But Merkel's party says Turks in Germany are more interested in jobs and conservative values than Turkey's EU membership, which is supported by the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.
Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Stephen Brown