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Turkish Premier Recovering

June 3, 2002

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Turkey’s prime minister is recovering well after being hospitalized twice last month, and is set to attend a meeting of party leaders later this week to discuss the country’s bid for membership in the European Union, officials said Monday.

Cem Avci, a spokesman for Premier Bulent Ecevit, told journalists that doctors were working hard to enable Ecevit to return to work, and said he was expected to join other party leaders at a meeting held by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on June 7.

Last week, Ecevit, 77, missed a key meeting with top generals, fueling demands from the opposition and media, and even some members of the coalition government, that he should step down. Parliament’s term expires in April 2004.

The premier, who has suffered intestinal problems, a broken rib and a vein infection in the past month, has insisted he will remain in charge of the government. Newspapers have also speculated that the premier has Parkinson’s disease and myasthenia gravis, a nerve disease characterized by weakness and muscle fatigue.

The leaders meeting will address Turkey’s decades-old efforts to join the EU, which have reached a critical stage. Last week, senior military and political leaders agreed to press ahead with human rights reforms that will help Turkey meet EU criteria, including giving more rights to the country’s estimated 12 million Kurds.

Friday’s meeting is seen as crucial for securing consensus on the reforms. Tansu Ciller, leader of the largest opposition party in parliament, had threatened not to attend the meeting if Ecevit was not there, daily Hurriyet reported Monday.

Some analysts fear that if Ecevit is forced to resign, it could lead to a government crisis that would trigger early elections, setting back the country’s EU-oriented reform program and undermining a fledgling recovery from last year’s deep economic crisis.

Others believe Ecevit’s three-party coalition _ which has a large majority in parliament _ could remain in power under another leader.

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