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TURKEY'S TOP EU NEGOTIATOR SET FOR TALKS IN ITALY, FINLAND - September 28, 2006 ANKARA - Turkey's chief negotiator in its bid to join the EU will hold talks in Italy and Finland this week as the bloc seeks a way out from a looming crisis with Ankara over the island of Cyprus. The negotiator, Economy Minister Ali Babacan, is scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema and International Trade Minister Emma Bonino on Thursday, his press office said. He will participate in a diner organized by US financial giant Morgan Stanley in Rome on Wednesday evening. On his second stop in Helsinki, which is currently holding the rotating EU presidency, Babacan is scheduled to hold talks on Friday with Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja. His visits precede a crucial European Commission report on Turkey's progress towards membership due on November 8. Turkey's bid has been clouded by EU criticism that Ankara is failing to ensure freedom of speech and a row over its rejection to open its sea and air ports to Greek Cypriot use under a customs union accord with the bloc. Turkey refuses to endorse the internationally recognized Cyprus government in the Greek south of the long-divided island and insists it will allow it to use Turkish ports only if the EU delivers promises to ease international sanctions imposed on the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north. Babacan said earlier this month that the EU was making "serious efforts" to find a "provisional or partial" solution to the row, which is threatening to derail the country's membership talks only a year after they began. "We are ready to talk about every alternative," Babacan said. "We will be the party that desires a solution and not the party that withdraws from the table."

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