GREEK PM RESTATES DESIRE TO SEE TURKEY IN THE EU
- Published:08 Ocak 2011, Cumartesi
- Updated:19 Ocak 2011, Çarşamba
The prime ministers of Greece and Turkey voiced solidarity in their approach to tackling the growing problem of illegal immigration, after the Greek government announced plans to fence part of its border.
"We give great importance to working together with Turkey on the issue of illegal immigration," Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said in translated remarks at a joint news conference in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum.
Greece said this week it was planning to erect a fence on its Turkish border, having complained in the past that Turkey was not doing enough to stem a flood of illegal migrants.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan played down the significance of the fence, which will cover just 12.5 km (8 miles) of a 206 km-long border.
"This is not a measure taken against Turkey or Greece," Erdogan said. "It's wrong to see this is as a wall. We fully trust each other on this." Erdogan said his appreciation of the problem had changed after Papandreou told him there were one million illegal immigrants in Greece.
Athens has long complained that Ankara's refusal to take back immigrants who have crossed from its territory encourages would-be migrants to use that route.
Papandreou went on to restate his desire to see Turkey become a member of the European Union, and said he would try to help remove obstacles stalling progress, notably over the divided island of Cyprus.
"We have to solve the problems that delay Turkey's EU membership or the process will freeze," Papandreou said in an address to a gathering of Turkish ambassadors in Erzurum, moments before the news conference.
Cyprus is an EU member governed by a Greek Cypriot government, while a breakaway Turkish enclave in the north is subject to an EU embargo and only recognised by Turkey. Turkey has backed efforts to reunite Cyprus, and the lack of headway has stymied Turkey's EU bid.
Erdogan, after venting frustration with the EU, went on to speak of the great strides made to improve Turkish relations with Greece.
The two fellow members of NATO almost went to war in 1996 over an uninhabited island and have territorial disputes in the Aegean.
But in recent years they have undertaken confidence-building measures, including several related to their armed forces.
"We both have the will to turn both the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas in to seas of peace," said Erdogan, who earlier walked arm-in-arm with the Greek premier in Erzurum, where they attended an opening ceremony for the facilities of the World Winter Student Games.
Papandreou, however, delivered a chill reminder over airspace violations by Turkish military jets
"For years we have been strugging to create trust, but this can be quickly ruined," he said.