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Turkey rejects European report criticising constitutional plans

Turkish President Erdogan greets his supporters during a ceremony in Istanbul

Turkey on Tuesday rejected a European legal report calling its proposed constitutional changes a big setback for democracy, saying the experts who compiled it had become politicised and the report stained their prestige.

Ankara, stuck in a deepening row with the Netherlands over a ban on its ministers speaking at rallies there ahead of Turkey’s referendum on the changes, says the reforms are needed to guarantee stability in the Nato-member state of 80 million people.

The Venice Commission, a panel of legal experts at the Council of Europe, said on Friday the proposed changes, which will sharply boost the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan, represented a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy.

Erdogan’s opponents say the changes would push Turkey towards one-man rule and erode basic rights and freedoms.

“From the Turkish perspective, this completely political and subjective report has no esteem or value,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter.

“With this report, the Venice Commission has abandoned its objectivity and expertise, lost its impartiality, become politicised and stained its prestige,” he said.

The legislation enables the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and state officials and dissolve parliament. The two largest opposition parties say it will remove checks and balances to Erdogan’s power.

“The Venice Commission has taken the side of ‘No’ in the referendum,” Bozdag said. He said that the report reflected the views of Turkish opposition parties and that the people would give their response to it by voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum.

The Commission said it had concerns about provisions allowing the new president to exercise executive power alone “with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers.”

It saw it as weakening the “already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive”.

Erdogan says political change is needed to tackle security threats ranging from Islamic State and Kurdish militant bombings to a coup attempt in July in which at least 240 people died.

The Council of Europe panel’s legal opinion has no binding power over Turkey, which joined the 47-nation body in 1950.

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