On landmark visit, Erdogan expected to broach thorny topics

On landmark visit, Erdogan expected to broach thorny topics

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due in Greece on Thursday for a landmark visit – the first by a Turkish head of state in 65 years – with Aegean tensions, the refugee crisis and Ankara’s demand for the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers expected to top the agenda of talks.

Erdogan will meet with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the two leaders are expected to discuss the latest spike in tension over an increase in violations of Greek air space by Turkish jets. Ankara’s tactic of reserving large areas for military exercises and its tendency to dispute Greek sovereignty in the Aegean is a sore point for Athens.

The refugee crisis is another hot topic in view of the recent increase in arrivals of undocumented migrants from Turkey and growing pressure on the islands of the eastern Aegean. With Turkey’s relations with both the European Union and the United States degenerating, there are hopes that an improvement of ties with Greece may help boost stability in the region.

Erdogan is further expected to use the visit as an opportunity to press for the extradition of eight military officials who have been granted asylum in Greece after fleeing Turkey following last year’s failed coup. According to sources, Erdogan insists that Tsipras promised him, just a few hours after the thwarted coup, that Greece would return any Turkish officers seeking refuge here.

Erdogan is also expected to press Ankara’s demand for the construction of an official mosque in Athens. Tsipras, meanwhile, is to repeat calls for the reopening of the Greek Orthodox seminary on Halki island off Istanbul.

The two men will also discuss the creation of a rail link from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, a coastal link to Izmir and a bridge connecting the customs crossings of Kipoi and Ipsala.

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