Turkish president Erdogan softens stance in Thrace visit

TAGS: Turkey, Diplomacy, Religion

On the second day of a visit to Greece that started with tensions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday assumed a softer approach during a visit to Komotini, in the country’s northeast, where he met with members of the local Muslim minority.

After visiting a local mosque amid tight security, Erdogan delivered an impromptu speech at a school for the local Muslim community.

“You are citizens of Greece and you must strive for its good,” he told the hundreds of Muslim supporters who had gathered at the school to welcome him. “We will try to bolster our cooperation with Greece and you will be the bridge,” the Turkish leader told his listeners, referring to them as “fellow citizens” and “people of the same nation” who “have fought to survive.”

In a minor incident before his speech, Erdogan asked for a microphone, prompting the surprise of Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Amanatidis, who said a speech had not been planned. Eventually a microphone was found and Erdogan addressed the crowd.

Referring to tense talks with Greek government officials on Thursday when he called for a review of the Treaty of Lausanne, which defined the borders between Greece and Turkey, Erdogan said they were “interesting” and that he hoped they would bear fruit. In a speech to Muslim community leaders shortly before leaving Greece, he briefly referred to the treaty.

But instead of repeating calls for it to be revised or updated, he indicated that the pact should be enforced to the letter, telling members of the Muslim community that it “secures your rights.”

The political opposition on Friday accused the government of failing to adequately prepare for Erdogan’s visit. Conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of “unforgivable sloppiness” that led to a “lost opportunity” and questions about the public stage given to Erdogan to make his claims.