Sunday

4th Dec 2016

EU in Turkey charm offensive

The EU dispatched senior officials to Ankara in an effort to salvage a migrant swap deal and restore strained diplomatic relations.

Both European Parliament president Martin Schulz and EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos are meeting Turkish counterparts in Ankara, including president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Avramopoulos and Turkey's minister for EU affairs Omer Celik on Thursday (1 September) issued statements in a joint press conference followed by two questions from one reporter.

Avramopoulos, for his part, made no mention of human rights abuse or Turkey's widespread crackdown on people with suspected links to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The cleric has been blamed for orchestrating a military coup against Erdogan, a charge he has denied.

Turkish prosecutors also issued earlier this week arrest warrants for 35 reporters. The names were released today on the Turkish news website Bianet.

Instead, Avramopoulos said the failed military coup on 15 July had represented an "attack against Turkish society, its freedom, and its democracy."

"The European Union stands, and continues to stand with Turkey," he said.

The diplomatic niceties follows sharp criticism from Turkey that the EU has failed to demonstrate sufficient support for the government and the people in the wake of the coup.

Plans to lift short-stay visas on Turks also remain open.

The commissioner said he hoped to soon see Turkish citizens travel without visas to Europe.

"I also as a friend of Turkey have a dream to visit this beautiful country without a passport," said Avramopoulos.

Turkey wants the restrictions lifted as part of a migrant swap deal with the EU signed off in March. But lawmakers in Ankara have refused to amend its broad definition of terrorism at the EU's request.

The issue has risked up-ending the migrant deal, which prevents people from crossing the Aegean to seek asylum in Greece.

The deal has witnessed an increase in the number of people entering Greece since the 15 July.

Vincent Cochetel, Europe's director of the UN refugee agency, told the Guardian newspaper that some aspects of the deal of have already suspended.

He said Turkish liaison officers on the Greek islands have been withdrawn, making deportations impossible.

People working for the Turkish coastguard have also not been spared from the Gulen purge, he noted.

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