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Turkish parliament approves EU-sought religion law

For the full story, go to Reuters. Turkey ‘s parliament approved on Thursday a law required by the European Union that will improve property rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, but it is likely to fall short of EU expectations.

Parliament approved the “religious foundations law” by 241 votes for to 31 against after months of sometimes stormy debate and much fine-tuning of its wording.

The law was passed a day after the European Commission published a report on Turkey, which called for greater rights for groups such as religious minorities, criticised a lack of reform and set a deadline for it to open its ports to EU member Cyprus or face unspecified consequences.

The EU had criticised the foundations law draft, saying it failed to provide for compensation to those whose properties have already been sold to third parties since being taken over by the state or other entities.

The main minorities affected by the law are historic Greek Orthodox, Syriac and Armenian communities and also Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations.

The reform prompted months of debate and stirred nationalist fears, with opposition parties suggesting it could increase the influence of the Istanbul-based Orthodox Christian patriarch, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

The EU has also expressed concern over restrictions on training of Christian clergy in Turkey , an issue not tackled in the foundations law.

Ankara is under EU pressure to reopen a Greek Orthodox seminary, but has been unable to find a legal formula that both complies with Turkish secularist principles and is acceptable to Patriarch Bartholomew.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, sometimes wary of EU-linked reforms he fears may weaken the Turkish nation state or its secular structure, could still block the foundations law, but parliament would be able to override his veto.

Turkey began EU entry talks one year ago, but is not expected to join the wealthy bloc for many years.