Erdogan to visit Athens and Thrace

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a three-day official visit to Greece, starting on Thursday. «The two prime ministers will discuss Greek-Turkish bilateral relations and will exchange opinions on regional and international issues,» the prime minister’s office said in a statement announcing the visit. Erdogan, who will be accompanied by a business delegation, will also meet with President Costis Stephanopoulos and Parliament Speaker Anna Psarouda-Benaki. At the end of his visit on Saturday, Erdogan will pay a private visit to Komotini in Western Thrace, where most of Greece’s 120,000 Muslims live. It will be the first time a Turkish prime minister will have visited the border region since 1952. Athens says that the failure to reach a solution to the Cyprus issue will not hinder Turkey’s efforts to draw closer to the EU. Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, whose country joined the EU on Saturday, said yesterday that it was in his country’s interests for Turkey to join the EU. But he added that Ankara must meet the necessary criteria. «Turkey cannot deploy an army of occupation on European territory,» he told a news conference, indicating that he may take a harder line. Papadopoulos led the campaign to reject UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for Cyprus’s reunification. But he said, «After a while, the Greek-Cypriot side will continue its efforts… for an initiative to make such improvements to the Annan plan and to get effective guarantees for its implementation and security issues as to make a solution possible.» Mehmet Ali Talat, who heads the administration of the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state, will meet with US Secretary of State Colin Powell today, in the highest-level contact between the two sides in many years. «Our requests are that the isolation, the economic embargoes and restrictions concerning (direct) flights are lifted,» Talat told reporters in Istanbul before leaving for the United States yesterday. Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the Annan plan in the April 24 referendum.

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