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Turkey's Erdogan warns of UK-style referendum on EU membership bid

Erdogan accused the EU of 'stalling' over Turkey's accession because it is a Muslim-majority country
Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in front of the Turkish and EU flags (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could hold a referendum over whether to continue its long-stalled accession process to join the European Union, as the UK headed to the polls to weigh leaving the union.

Angrily lashing out at the bloc's treatment of Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey could call a referendum along the lines of that in Britain, where voters are deciding Thursday whether to stay in the European Union or leave.

"We can stand up and ask the people just like the British are doing," Erdogan said in a speech late Wednesday after breaking the Ramadan fast, quoted by the Anadolu news agency.

"We would ask 'Do we continue the negotiations with the European Union or do we end it?' If the people say 'continue,' then we would carry on," Erdogan said.

He accused the EU of not wanting to accept Turkey as a member as it is a "Muslim-majority country".

Erdogan said Turkey had been promised membership in 1963, but 53 years later nothing had happened. "Why are you stalling?" he asked.

It was in 1963 that Ankara and Brussels for the first time inked an association agreement stating that Turkey would aim to be a member of the bloc.

After applying in 1987, Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005, but its membership bid has been held up by an array of problems.

With the question of Turkey's possible membership being raised in the British referendum, Ankara has been angered by comments from London suggesting that it has no realistic chance of joining the bloc in the medium term.

During the campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron said Turkish membership was not "remotely on the cards" and may not happen until the year 3000.

UK politicians who back remaining in the EU, including Cameron, have sought to pour cold water on claims that Turkey is on the verge of joining the union, amid a campaign that has focused on immigration and EU citizens' right to work in the UK.