Greek, Turk PMs agree to boost trade

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday agreed to boost bilateral ties, especially in trade, on the sidelines of a Balkan summit in Thessaloniki that saw the forging of several agreements to promote trade and infrastructure in the region. Karamanlis and Erdogan agreed to more than double bilateral trade from the current $2 billion (1.58 billion euros) to $5 billion (3.95 billion euros), without setting a time frame for this goal. But no announcements were made regarding any of the major disputes – territorial issues in the Aegean, Cyprus and several religious issues – that have caused bilateral relations to sour over recent months. «It is understandable that we do not see eye to eye on a number of issues. But Greek-Turkish relations are much better than they were in the past, and there is the will to improve them further,» Karamanlis told a press conference. However shortly after the close of the summit, Erdogan called for the reopening of two old mosques in central Athens. «In our country, we have allowed Christian churches to be renovated… and so we request the renovation of our old mosques with your help,» he said. A government statement issued later stressed Greece’s commitment to «(religious) equality» and reiterated plans, heralded by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, to create a mosque in Athens. Yesterday’s summit also yielded some tangible results, with Balkan foreign ministers agreeing to expand a regional free trade pact with the aim of preparing EU candidates’ economies to meet strict EU membership criteria. Ministers also signed an agreement for the creation of a modernized railway network interconnecting southeastern European countries. Meanwhile, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev reiterated his country’s commitment to the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, refuting earlier reports that Bulgaria was pulling out of the project.