ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey on Saturday rejected European Union criticism of its handling of anti-government protests earlier this year, but said a report on its progress towards joining the bloc showed it had come closer to European economic and democratic standards.
In the government's first official response to the commission's report, released on Wednesday, EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis said the European Commission's support for fresh talks on a new policy area proved Turkey was making progress in the reform process.
"We are pleased that this year's progress report emphasizes the important reforms Turkey has realized," Bagis said.
"It's indisputable that Turkey is now closer than ever to European Union standards in terms of democracy, human rights and economic developments," he said in an emailed statement.
The report on Turkish efforts to meet requirements to join the 28-nation EU may help breathe new life into Turkey's EU bid by backing the opening of talks on a new chapter.
But it also accused Turkish police of using excessive force to quell anti-government protests earlier this year and urged authorities to strengthen oversight of the police and to press ahead with investigations into their conduct.
Protests erupted across Turkey after police dispersed a sit-in against the demolition of an Istanbul park. Six people died and more than 8,000 were hurt in two weeks of clashes in June.
Bagis dismissed the report's criticism of how the government handled the protests.
"We consider it important to emphasize that we will never view efforts that employ violence and illegal methods against the peace of our nation and people as a struggle for rights," he said.
Turkey began talks with the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying. But its refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriots and public opposition in Germany and France to a large, poor Muslim nation joining the bloc have stalled progress.
Bagis said he waited three days to respond to the report to protest its publication coinciding with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, when Turkish government offices are closed.
(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Mike Collett-White)