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EU lawmakers urge halt to Turkey EU membership talks

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers called on Thursday for a temporary halt to EU membership talks with Turkey because of Ankara’s “disproportionate” reaction to July’s failed coup, although EU governments are unlikely to take heed.

A woman adjusts the Turkish flag next to the European Union flag at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels in this January 15, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Members of the European Parliament voted 479 to 37 in favour of a non-binding motion urging the European Commission and national governments to institute what lawmakers acknowledge would be a largely symbolic freeze in negotiations that have been going on for 11 years but have long been stalled.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim dismissed the vote as having no importance, an echo of comments this week by President Tayyip Erdogan, but he also warned Europe that cutting ties with Turkey would mean a “flood” of migrants to the bloc.

“We are one of the factors protecting Europe. If refugees go through, they will flood into Europe and take it over, and Turkey prevents this,” Yildirim said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber.

“I accept that cutting off ties with Europe would harm Turkey, but it would damage Europe five-to-six times more.”

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said the vote would do nothing to encourage reforms, describing it on Twitter as populist and short-sighted.

Neither side expects Turkey to be in a position to join the EU for many years to come.

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More than 125,000 people - including soldiers, academics, judges, journalists and Kurdish leaders - have been detained or dismissed over their alleged backing for the July 15 coup attempt, in what opponents, rights groups and some Western allies say is an attempt to crush all dissent.

“The European Parliament ... strongly condemns the disproportionate repressive measures taken in Turkey since the failed military coup attempt in July,” the parliament motion read, although it added that it remained committed to keeping Turkey “anchored” to the EU.

Austria has led calls to stop Turkey’s membership talks. Germany, France and most other EU states for now back continued engagement and fear putting at risk Erdogan’s collaboration on migration.

The EU executive’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, has said an end to the accession process would result in a lose-lose situation.

EU leaders are due to discuss Turkey again when they meet in Brussels at a regular summit on Dec. 15-16.

Erdogan accuses the EU of failing to understand the gravity of threats to Turkey. He said the bloc would have to “live with the consequences” if it stopped the talks and that Ankara could instead join an security alliance run by Russia and China.

Turkey still hopes to win visa-free travel for its citizens to the EU, part of an EU promise in exchange for its help in keeping migrants away from Europe, although the chances of it winning that right by the end of this year seem distant.

As part of the same deal with the EU in March, Brussels agreed to reinvigorate accession talks.

Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Robin Pomeroy