November 6, 2009 / 1:50 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan leader's planned visit sparks Turkey-EU row

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul accused the European Union on Friday of “interfering” after the bloc asked Ankara to reconsider a decision to invite indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to an Islamic summit.

The exchange underscores the risk for EU candidate Turkey that Bashir’s plans to attend Monday’s summit in Istanbul of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in defiance of an warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC), could escalate into a diplomatic crisis with Brussels.

Muslim Turkey has not ratified the 2002 Rome Statute that established the ICC, but it is under pressure to do so to bring it closer to EU standards.

Turkey, which has deepened commercial and energy ties with Sudan, has announced it has no plans to arrest Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC in March for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region.

In a diplomatic note seen by Reuters, Brussels asked Turkey to reconsider its invitation to Bashir to attend the OIC summit.

Asked about the note, Gul told reporters: “What are they interfering for? This is a meeting being held in the framework of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It is not a bilateral meeting.”

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is engaged in a standoff with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program, has also said he will attend the one-day meeting in Istanbul.

The summit will add to growing concerns in some Western circles that Turkey, an OIC member and NATO country, is shifting away from its pro-Western foreign policy.

Turkey, which opened EU membership negotiations in 2005, can hardly afford a crisis with Brussels over Bashir’s visit.

Ankara’s accession bid has almost ground to a halt, partly due to Turkey’s failure to implement key reforms. Meanwhile, opposition to Turkey’s EU bid is growing in some member states who say the country does not fit in Europe. (Reporting by Zerin Elci in Paris and Daren Butler in Istanbul; writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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