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Another Salvo From France

InternationalFrench President Jacques Chirac continues to await a EC report this year on whether the European Union will open accession talks with Turkey, a spokeswoman for Chirac says.

PARIS (AA) - She said the president\'s position was unchanged, after a decision this week of his ruling conservative UMP party to oppose Turkish entry to the bloc in its campaign for June elections to the European Parliament.

Some observers saw that as a precursor to Chirac himself changing an official \"wait-and-see\" position on whether Turkey has made sufficient progress on issues such as human rights.

But the spokeswoman said Chirac\'s position remained unchanged from comments he made in Brussels on March 26, when he said a decision by EU states due around December would follow the Commission\'s report.

\"Turkey has made unquestionable efforts on democracy, human rights and the market economy,\" he said then, after a European Council meeting.

\"The issue remains whether (these efforts) have in fact become part of everyday life or whether they will become a part... So I cannot of course prejudge the content or conclusions of the Commission\'s report,\" he added.

The 15-member EU takes in 10 new members, mainly from eastern and central Europe, on May 1. Turkey hopes to be in a later wave of accession.

But Francois Baroin, secretary general of Chirac\'s Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) party, sewed doubt about France\'s position on Thursday by saying the party clearly rejected Turkish integration into the European Union.

UMP leaders suggest instead that the EU have a privileged partnership with Turkey, a solution also put forward by opposition conservatives in Germany.

The whole issue now looks set to be one of the major talking points of the French campaign for June elections to the European Parliament, where the UMP hopes to avoid a repeat of the rout it received in March\'s elections to France\'s regional councils.

Leaders of the Socialist Party have been broadly favourable to Turkey\'s accession. But in a sign of possible fine-tuning of its position, Socialist former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said on Friday that any entry was a long way off.

\"Instead of asking the question about accession as if it were imminent -- which it is not -- we would do better to start with a major Europe-Turkey accord, a strategic partnership,\" he told French Europe 1 radio.

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