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EU condemns Turkey coup bid, warns Erdogan on death penalty

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers urged Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to respect the law and human rights in dealing with defeated coup plotters, warning that reinstating the death penalty would likely end Ankara’s EU membership bid.

Turkish Supporters are silhouetted against a screan showing President Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government demonstration in Ankara, Turkey, July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

After a breakfast in Brussels with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the ministers condemned the weekend coup attempt in a common EU statement, but expressed alarm at Erdogan’s public comments on Sunday that there could be no delay in using capital punishment.

“The EU recalls that the unequivocal rejection of the death penalty is an essential element of the union acquis,” ministers said, referring to the body of EU law that underpins the bloc.

The statement was agreed by all 28 EU ministers, including new British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who campaigned successfully for Britons to vote to leave the bloc, attending his first EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

Germany, Austria and France also warned separately that bringing back the death penalty, which Turkey abolished in 2004, would undo years of membership talks that began in 2005.

“Reintroduction of the death penalty would prevent successful negotiations to join the EU,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a position echoed by his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault in less direct terms.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini noted that Turkey was a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans capital punishment across the continent.

Turkey purged its police on Monday after rounding up thousands of soldiers, judges and prosecutors. Protestors at pro-Erdogan rallies have demanded that the coup leaders be executed.

Erdogan’s authoritarian turn had worried the EU well before Friday night’s coup attempt, but Turkey’s role as an ally in Syria, in facing off with Russia and as gatekeeper on a migrant route to Europe have all tempered the bloc’s criticism.

Abolishing capital punishment, which in Europe remains only in Belarus, is at the heart of EU policy. Erdogan’s position, which the Turkish government will discuss with opposition parties, appeared to be a step too far for EU ministers, even as the EU faces a particularly tricky time with Turkey in the next three months.

Brussels is trying to finalize a deal struck in March to reward Ankara for preventing migrants from crossing to Greece by channeling up to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid to the 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, reviving EU accession talks and scrapping visas for Turks wishing to visit Europe.

European leaders have already bitten their tongues to stifle criticism of Erdogan’s crackdown on ethnic Kurds, Turkish media and other dissent to arrange the bargain. But the visa waiver still depends on Ankara dropping its resistance to amending a counter-terrorism law -- something not made easier by the coup -- and on approval in the rights-minded European Parliament.

Turkish officials have warned that they could reopen the migration route if the EU fails to deliver its part of the deal.

Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Brussels; Writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by David Evans and David Stamp