25th Oct 2016

Turkey purge intensifies, amid EU visa demands

A flurry of EU diplomatic visits to Ankara has failed to bend Turkey's demand on visa waivers.

At a joint press conference with European Parliament chief Martin Schulz in Ankara on Thursday (1 September), Turkey's prime minister Binali Yildirim said the country would not budge on its anti-terrorism laws.

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"We have made it clear to the EU that it's not possible to make amendments to the terror law in the current situation," he said.

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously threatened to pull out of a migrant-swap deal with the EU unless its nationals are allowed to visit EU states without visas by mid-October.

Yildirim's statement follows a new wave of crackdowns on people suspected of helping instigate a failed military coup in July.

Some 543 prosecutors and judges were sacked on Thursday as a part of a much larger purge against those with suspected ties to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey has also been hit with a spate of recent attacks from both the Islamic State and the Kurdish rebel group PKK.

But the EU says the Turkish law must narrow the definition of terrorism as a pre-condition to lifting visas given journalists and academics also fall under its broad scope.

Schulz, for his part, said the visa benchmarks still need to be met despite Turkey's opposition.

But he also said the European Parliament is willing to work with Turkey to keep the migrant deal, signed off in March, afloat.

"The European Parliament remains a committed supporter in advancing and deepening EU-Turkey relations," he said.

Although the Greek islands have witnessed a recent spike in the number of asylum arrivals, the deal has dramatically decreased the figures compared to last year.

Schulz's statement echoed similar calls for support and solidarity with Turkey by EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Both men had traveled to Ankara on Thursday to meet senior Turkish officials, including president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Merkel and Erdogan in China

The EU is desperate to keep the deal intact.

Germany's chancellor Anegela Merkel on Thursday said she would be meeting Turkey's president, along with leaders of France and Italy, next week in the margins of the G20 summit in China.

Germany is also hoping to smooth over ties with Ankara after German lawmakers earlier this year declared an Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915 a genocide.

This issue has sparked a sharp rebuke from Turkey which has since denied German lawmakers access to the Incirlik air base.

Around 250 German troops are stationed at the base.

Turkey had also previously critised Western leaders for failing to demonstrate support for the government and the people in the wake of the coup on 15 July.

Some 270 people were killed in an putsch Turkey says was orchestrated by Gulen, a charge he denies.

The Schulz and Avramopoulos trip followed last week's visit from US vice-president Joe Biden.

The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the EU's enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, are also set to visit Ankara next week.

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