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Greece denies blame in migrant drownings

Published on Jan 23, 2014 11:51 PM

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece on Thursday rejected claims that its coastguard was responsible for the deaths of at least two migrants in the Aegean Sea when the boat carrying them to Europe capsized.

The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it has received eyewitness testimony that the boat carrying Afghan and Syrian migrants had capsized whilst being towed "at high speed" by a Greek coastguard vessel towards Turkish waters.

It has also urged Athens to investigate the weekend tragedy near the Greek island of Farmakonissi in which a woman and child were found dead, and nine others are still missing.

But Merchant Marine Minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis rejected the claims, telling state agency ANA: "When you have (rough) seas and (over 20) people on board a small fishing boat who are not familiar with the element, things are often difficult." The Greek coastguard on Wednesday denied pushing back the migrants towards Turkey. It said the boat had indeed been towed owing to bad weather, but in the direction of Greece, not Turkey.

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