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Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has urged the EU to accelerate Turkey’s membership bid and pledged to help Ankara gain accession.

Turkey began accession talks in 2005 but has so far only opened dialogue in eight of the 35 policy chapters candidates must complete.

Berlusconi pledged to try and win over those EU members resistant to Turkey’s application.

“Regarding the opposition shown by certain countries – some of which are important countries – I am confident we will be able to convince them of the strategic importance of Turkey, within the European framework, as a country bordering the Middle East,” he said.

Turkey says it is determined to meet the criteria for membership. But 18 policy chapters are currently on hold. Eight were officially frozen in December 2006 due to a trade dispute with Cyprus, while five are directly linked to accession and are blocked by France. Others have been blocked by Cyprus itself and the European Commission.