Thrace visit leaves sour taste in Athens' mouth

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's brief stopover in an ethnic Turkish-populated city in northeastern Greece just before his return to Turkey left a sour taste in Greek mouths after an otherwise historic visit.

Thrace visit leaves sour taste in Athens' mouth

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's two-day visit to neighboring Greece may have paved the way for a new era in relations between the two former rivals, but a brief stopover in an ethnic Turkish-populated city in northeastern Greece just before his return to Turkey left a sour taste in Greek mouths after an otherwise historic visit.

Babacan and his Greek counterpart, Dora Bakoyannis, launched new confidence-building measures and announced that the two countries would set up joint peacekeeping and emergency response units under NATO auspices after decades of bitter rivalry.

The decision was hailed as a historic step in building confidence between the two neighbors, but Greek newspapers widely commented yesterday that Babacan's visit to Komotini (Gümülcine in Turkish) in northeastern Greece cast a shadow on the progress in relations.

Babacan's advice to Turks living there to demand their rights both put a shadow over the new measures and caused concern over a planned visit by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to Turkey, the Greek Kathimerini daily, citing Greek Foreign Ministry sources, wrote.

The Greek To Vima daily said Babacan's call on the Komotini Turks to seek their rights was "provocative" while the Greek Apoyevmatini daily claimed Babacan put on his "European face" when he had his talks in Athens and revealed the "other face of Turkish policy" during his trip to Komotini. "You are Turks, say it loud," was Babacan's message to the Turkish community in Komotini, according to another Greek daily, Elefteros Tipos. The daily claimed Babacan was thus calling for disobedience against the Greek state.

Greece refuses to acknowledge the ethnic roots of its Turkish minority and calls the community Muslim Greeks.

"Athens' policy on Muslim Greeks in Thrace is based on respect for legal rights and equality," said Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos yesterday in comments on Babacan's trip.

"This is the fact in Thrace, and everyone in Turkey must understand this. … Muslim Greeks do not need a lawyer."

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Aralık 2007, 15:38
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