EU hails Turkish poll victory, but Israel wary
BRUSSELS - The European Union on Monday hailed Turkey's ruling party election victory while Israel was more cautious, calling on Ankara to act "responsibly" and prevent fresh tensions in the region.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a crushing majority in Sunday's parliamentary election for a third straight win, with nearly 50 percent of the vote.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso applauded the poll results, saying they provided the AKP with fresh impetus to pursue democratic reforms.
The reforms, including a promised constitutional overhaul, should "strengthen confidence between Turkey and all EU member states," they said in a joint statement.
"Progress in these fields should also give new impetus to the accession negotiations with the European Union. ... We would welcome you to Brussels at your earliest convenience," they added.
Turkey's neighbour Iran also congratulated Erdogan, with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi declaring that "the prospect of expansion of bilateral ties is very bright."
But its other regional neighbour Israel took the opportunity to call on Turkey to block a flotilla of activists hoping to sail to Gaza, warning a go-ahead would mar bilateral relations.
"It's clear that we don't want to see encouragement on the part of the Turkish government towards a provocative flotilla," Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, told public radio.
A group of pro-Palestinian activists, led by several Turkish groups, have said they plan to sail to Gaza in June, in a repeat of a mission they undertook in May 2010.
That flotilla resulted in bloodshed when Israeli commandos raided the ships as they approached Gaza. Nine Turks were killed in the assault, which was widely condemned and soured relations between Israel and Turkey.
The activists organising the new flotilla have said they plan to go ahead with their mission, despite Egypt's decision to reopen the Rafah border crossing, effectively weakening Israel's blockade of the coastal strip.
Israel has strongly urged Turkey to block the flotilla from leaving this time, warning that its forces will take action to prevent activists from arriving in Gaza.