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Greece, Turkey move to bolster friendship amid migration debate January 13, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Turkish Foreign Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meets with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou. AA photo
Turkish Foreign Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meets with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou.

The prime ministers of Turkey and Greece agreed Friday to take further steps to bolster friendly relations between the two countries amid debates over Athens’ plans for a border barrier to block illegal immigration.

“We are expending efforts to turn the Aegean Sea into a lake of peace and friendship,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told an audience, including his Greek counterpart George Papandreou, gathered in a stadium in the Eastern Anatolian province of Erzurum.

“We should leave the mistakes of the past behind and build a world where peace reigns. We should transmit peace, love and respect to the next generations instead of a world dominated by fights, hatred or blood,” Erdoğan said. “Greece is Turkey’s neighbor to the west and we share a 206-kilometer border. This encounter is very meaningful.”

Papandreou, who arrived in Erzurum late Thursday, came to Turkey on the invitation of Erzurum, the host of the 2011 World University Winter Games, which begin Jan. 27. The Greek prime minister received a warm welcome from the local audience when he and Erdoğan inaugurated the city’s new sports facilities.

Turkey sent invitations the winter games to more than 50 countries, but officials said Friday the only rejection came from Israel, likely because of the unpopularity of winter sports in the country.

“We should forget the past’s rivalry and prejudices,” said Papandreou, who took the floor before the Turkish prime minister’s address, and had his speech interrupted a number of times by applause from locals. “We are honored and proud of our countries’ histories, but we would like to demolish the wall of prejudices.”

In his speech, Papandreou recalled a visit made by the Turkish prime minister in May to Athens, where he visited Greek team Paratinaiokos. “That stadium hosted the world’s first Olympics in 1896,” the Greek prime minister said. “There our goal was to convey the friendship message between Greece and Turkey to the entire world.”

The visiting prime minister underscored that he and Erdoğan had worked together to help improve the Turkish-Greek relationship. “The potential of our hearts is very big, so is the potential of our cooperation. I have brought with me the friendship message of the Greek people,” he said.

Papandreou vowed Greece would support Turkey’s candidacy to host the 2020 Olympics. His statement “Başarılar diliyorum,” which means, “I wish success” in Turkish, received a warm response from the audience.

Erdoğan said his encounter with Papandreou was very meaningful, adding that “on behalf of George, I am saluting the Greek people.” Later in the day, both prime ministers addressed a conference in Erzurum of Turkey’s ambassadors from all over the world.

Barrier is not against Turkey, says Athens

The Greek prime minister’s visit comes amid debates over Athens’ plans to block part of its border with Turkey to stem illegal immigration into the European Union. Greek diplomatic sources told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the issue was discussed in a “cooperative spirit.”

“The barrier is one of the technical measures as part of a broader plan for better border protection and also improved management of the flow of illegal immigrants, which also includes a different asylum system [and] the creation of a special committee that will handle all the process of paperwork,” said a Greek diplomat who wished to remain anonymous.

Saying that the barrier would be implemented as part of this plan, but that the specifics had not been determined yet, the diplomat emphasized that the barrier was not a measure against Turkey.

“This measure is not against Turkey or its people. It is a measure in order to try to improve the [illegal immigration] situation. We always have in mind the best protection because we should never forget that they are the victims of the worst exploitation by traffickers,” the unnamed Greek diplomat said.

“We are going to work together with Turkey… We have technical meetings with Turkey and we will have more meetings for better cooperation between two countries. This is a common problem between the two countries but also a European problem,” he added.

The meeting of the Turkish and Greek leaders also comes after Israel signed an agreement with the Greek Cypriot administration to delineate an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean, a move that drew criticism from Turkey. However, after this agreement was made, voices were heard even louder in Athens that Greece should also sign a similar agreement with Greek Cyprus, according to reports from the Greek capital.

 

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