EU stresses human rights in talks with Turkey's Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) shaking hands with  Mr Donald Tusk in Brussels  on May 25, 2017.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) shaking hands with Mr Donald Tusk in Brussels on May 25, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Bloc's leaders meet Turkish President ahead of Nato summit in Brussels

BRUSSELS • European Council president Donald Tusk yesterday stressed the importance of human rights in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid tensions over Ankara's long-delayed European Union accession process.

Mr Tusk, who heads the council of 28 EU member state leaders, and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker met the Turkish President ahead of a Nato summit in Brussels.

"I put the question of human rights in the centre of our discussions," Mr Tusk tweeted after the talks, which had begun with a brief and cordial handshake for photographers.

A spokesman for Mr Juncker said: "The EU and Turkey must and will continue to cooperate. Major issues of common interest were discussed in detail in a good and constructive atmosphere."

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At another meeting on the margins of the Nato summit, Mr Erdogan promised French President Emmanuel Macron that he would "rapidly" look into the case of jailed French photojournalist Mathias Depardon, Mr Macron's office said.

According to press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, the photojournalist, who has been held in Turkey for more than two weeks, has begun a hunger strike.

The Turkish authorities have said he was detained over "propaganda for a terror group" - which is a reference to outlawed Kurdish militants.

Ahead of his trip to Brussels, Mr Erdogan said it was up to Brussels to decide whether it wants Turkey as a member of the bloc.

Speaking to reporters before leaving for Brussels, he said Turkey would not behave like a "beggar" to gain membership.

Speeding up the membership process was a key condition set by Turkey in a landmark agreement with the EU in March last year to reduce migrant flows into Europe from war-torn Syria.

But relations between the bloc and Ankara soured after a failed coup attempt in July last year, and they worsened further during the campaign for last month's referendum on strengthening Mr Erdogan's powers.

The EU has expressed concern over the sacking and jailing of tens of thousands of soldiers, police, teachers and civil servants since the failed coup.

In the run-up to the referendum, which Mr Erdogan narrowly won, he had mooted reimposing the death penalty - a move that would automatically end Turkey's EU bid.

Earlier this month, he told Brussels that it had no other option than to open new "chapters", or policy areas, in Turkey's long- stalled accession talks, which began in 2005.

Most EU states, led by Germany, officially oppose freezing the accession talks, but Austria has repeatedly called for a halt.

This prompted Turkey to veto all Nato cooperation with neutral Austria, although the crisis was partially resolved with a deal on Tuesday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'EU stresses human rights in talks with Turkey's Erdogan'. Print Edition | Subscribe