PRAGUE Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that his country's half-century wait to become part of the European Union was "unforgivable" and it should be admitted without delay.
The country of 74 million launched a formal EU accession bid in 2005, four decades after the first talks, but the process has stalled due to opposition notably from France and Germany, as well as unresolved differences over the division of Cyprus.
Last October, Erdogan said the EU could lose Turkey if it did not grant it membership by 2023, the centenary of the founding of the modern Turkish state. It was the first time he had given an indication of how long Ankara could wait.
Speaking in Prague on the first day of trip to central Europe, Erdogan said Turkey had originally begun talks on integration in 1963.
The fact that the process was still dragging on was a particular slight because millions of Turkish people already live in EU states, he said.
"This delay for Turkey in the process is unforgivable," Erdogan told a news conference in the Czech capital.
"Our cooperation and solidarity with European countries will of course continue, even if they do not accept us. But our wish would be for Europe, even though they have not accepted us, to realise that 5 million citizens of Turkey live in the EU ... We say: 'Don't delay. Let's finish it'."
At the end of last year, Ankara accused the EU of "bigoted attitudes" in a report on its application process. Turkey has closed only one of the 35 policy "chapters" that must be agreed with candidates.
France, Cyprus and the bloc's executive Commission have blocked all but 13 of those remaining, and Brussels has halted talks because it says Turkey does not meet EU standards on human rights or freedom of speech or religion.
In December, Germany's foreign minister said the standstill was unsatisfactory and called for fresh impetus.
France's new president, Francois Hollande, has stopped short of endorsing Turkey's EU candidacy but has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria - a contrast to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's position that Turkey did not form part of Europe.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Robert Muller; Writing by Michael Winfrey; Editing by Kevin Liffey)