Top EU officials visit Turkey to mend relations with "key partner"

Two top EU officials visited Turkey on Thursday, praising its help stemming the migration crisis and condemning the July coup attempt in the country, after months of strained relations between the two sides.

Turkish officials have criticized their European counterparts for failing to visit following the events of July 15, when members of the armed forces sought to overthrow the government, leading to the death of more than 260 people.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz and EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos were both in Ankara on Thursday for meetings with top Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The European Union is a key partner of Turkey, and Turkey is a key partner for the EU. We are all committed to continue strengthening and deepening this partnership in all its aspects," Avramopoulos told journalists in Ankara after talks with Europe Minister Omer Celik.

"Now more than ever, the EU and Turkey have to remain close partners in order to provide much-needed stability and prosperity," he added. "Today, from here, we send a very strong signal of solidarity, friendship and commitment."

Schulz, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter after arriving in Ankara that he would "directly convey [a] message of solidarity and support for Turkish democracy."

"My visit aims to pay tribute to all the Turkish citizens who courageously took to the streets to defend democracy in the country," he had said ahead of his trip, in reference to the night of the attempted military takeover.

Senior EU officials were quick to condemn the coup attempt, but have since expressed concern about a subsequent crackdown that has led to the detention of thousands of people in a high-level purge of the military and civil service.

The developments have strained ties between the EU and Turkey - a long-running membership candidate which is also playing a key role in stemming migration flows into the bloc, under an agreement struck in March.

Schulz said before his visit that he was hoping to set the political dialogue with Turkey "on the right footing once again."

Avramopoulos on Thursday once again criticized the attempted coup, describing it as "an attack against Turkish society, its freedom and its democracy." He also praised Turkey for the many refugees it has taken in, saying that this shows "the humane and democratic face of this nation."

Turkey has played a significant role in regional issues such as the war in neighbouring Syria, from where hundreds of thousands of the refugees seeking to reach come.

But Brussels and Ankara have locked horns in recent months over an EU promise under the March migration deal to lift visa requirements for Turkish visitors to the bloc.

The timetable for that has been slipping, with Turkey unwilling to meet an EU demand to narrow its definition of terrorism. Even before the coup there were concerns that Ankara was using anti-terrorism laws to crack down on political opponents and the media.

Avramopoulos on Thursday declared himself "optimistic" and said the EU "remains committed to keep up the momentum and dialogue on visa liberalization." He also warned, however, that the fight against terrorism "should never be at the expense of fundamental rights."

Last update: Thu, 01/09/2016 - 18:02

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