Gov’t rebuffs Ankara’s dig on minorities

The government yesterday spurned Turkish criticism of Greece’s treatment of Muslims in the northeastern region of Thrace and urged Ankara to focus on European Union-oriented reforms. The reaction came as Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis met late last night with her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. «Turkey, like every other (EU) candidate state has undertaken the obligation to meet specific conditions,» Foreign Ministry spokesperson Giorgos Koumoutsakos said from New York. «Equality before the law, as practiced consistently by Greece with all its citizens, is not the appropriate platform for Turkey to use to distract attention from its lagging reform process,» Koumoutsakos added. The ministry was reacting to remarks made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday night, calling for Greece to respect the right of its Muslim minority in Thrace to elect its own religious leader, or mufti. «If Greece respects its own minority rights and has expectations from Turkey on this issue, then it should do what is required,» Erdogan told a gathering of Muslims from Thrace. «If this issue is not resolved, there are certain things that Turkey can do under the principle of reciprocity,» he added. The matter was broached following the death of Mehmet Emin Aga, who acted as mufti in Thrace for years, despite Athens nominating a rival mufti. Turkey’s prime minister also suggested that EU member Greece’s treatment of the Muslim minority in Thrace violated the Union’s human rights standards. «Our aim is to allow our kinsmen to benefit from rights enshrined in bilateral and international agreements as respected and equal citizens of Greece,» Erdogan said. Meanwhile, late yesterday a scheduled meeting between Bakoyannis and Gul got under way in New York. Bakoyannis, who also met with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos yesterday, is today due to have talks with outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US President George W. Bush. Gul is also due to meet with Annan for talks on the Cyprus problem.