Athens cool over Halki blow

Athens reacted cautiously yesterday to reports in the Turkish media that the country’s foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, said Turkey had no intention of recognizing the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul or allowing its seminary to reopen, 34 years after Ankara shut it down. Ankara was not considering changing the status afforded to the Patriarchate, which the Turkish government does not recognize as being «ecumenical» or universal, Gul is quoted as saying by the Zaman daily. He added that there were no special plans to reopen the Patriarchate’s Halki religious seminary and that the matter would only be assessed under «existing legislation.» The Turkish government closed the seminary in 1971 under a law limiting activities at post-secondary religious schools but in the build-up to its membership talks with the EU, which are due to start in October, Ankara has hinted that might allow it to open. Brussels has attempted to exert maximum pressure on Turkey to ensure the rights of ethnic and religious minorities are protected, as a prerequisite of membership talks. The matter was raised yesterday with the European Commission by Left Coalition Synaspismos Euro MP Dimitris Papadimoulis, who demanded that Brussels react to Gul’s comments before membership talks are due to begin on October 3. The Greek government, however, will wait to verify Gul’s comments before reacting and will put faith in the fact that the respect of minorities is a basic tenet by which any aspiring EU member must abide, Foreign Ministry sources told Kathimerini. Meanwhile, Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said yesterday that Nicosia has rejected an offer to lift a 30-year ban on ports and airports in the Turkish-occupied north in return for being handed the abandoned area of Varosha in Famagusta.

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