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Turkey’s PM tells EU no 'bargaining' over migrants

AFP / Virginia Mayo | (L-R) Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a European Union summit with Turkey on the migrant crisis, in Brussels, on March 7, 2016

Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu warned there would be no "bargaining" over the plight of refugees as he met EU leaders on Friday in bid to clinch a deal to curb the unprecedented numbers reaching Europe.


Davutoglu threw down the gauntlet to the leaders who overnight forged a common position including "red lines" that they will present to him at talks in Brussels led by European Council President Donald Tusk.

"For Turkey, the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining but an issue of values, humanitarian values as well as European values," Davutoglu told reporters as he arrived for the summit.

Underscoring tension with Brussels, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Europeans of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) days after a bombing in Ankara claimed by Kurdish rebels that killed 35 people.

"European countries are paying no attention, as if they are dancing in a minefield," Erdogan said in Ankara.

Turkey has demanded an acceleration of its long-stalled bid for EU membership, billions of euros in extra aid and visa-free travel in return for taking back all irregular migrants coming to Greece, the main entry point to Europe.

Chief Turkish negotiator Volkan Bozkir drove the point home when he told his country's pro-government Sabah newspaper that the EU had to accept all the deal's terms or it would be "off the table".

Many European Union states have expressed concerns about Ankara's human rights record, including its treatment of the Kurds and a crackdown on critics of the government.

The United Nations and rights groups fear the deal could violate international law that forbids the mass deportation of refugees.

Amnesty International set up a sign outsid the summit venue: "Don't trade refugees".

EU leaders agreed late Thursday on what was described as a common position but gave no new details about the proposals.

Europe is counting on the agreement to curb an unprecedented wave of migrants, 1.2 million of whom have arrived since the start of 2015, fuelled by the war in Syria.

Under its terms, the European Union would take in one Syrian refugee from Turkish soil in exchange for every Syrian readmitted to Turkey from Greece.

'Good opportunity'


The aim of the "one-for-one" deal is to encourage Syrians to apply for asylum in the EU while they are still on Turkish soil, instead of taking dangerous smugglers' boats across the Aegean Sea.

The migrant crisis has left Europe increasingly divided, with fears that its Schengen passport-free zone could collapse as states reintroduce border controls and concerns over the rise of populism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Despite misgivings about the legality of the deal from fellow EU leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a "good opportunity".

Merkel however demanded "preconditions" and clear plans to deal with the logistics of processing thousands of asylum seekers on the Greek islands and shipping them back to Turkey.

A senior EU official described the proposal Tusk would present to Davutoglu "everyone's red lines" for the negotiations.

Late on Thursday, Tusk presented changes to the deal to address some of the concerns -- including the involvement of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in any returns and that women and children should form the bulk of those taken under the scheme.

'Modern-day Dachau'


Davutoglu's delegation heightened the drama when it issued a tweet: "#EUCO worked late into night for a deal. Now it's our turn."

Besides Tusk, Davutoglu was meeting European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the six-month EU rotating presidency, before EU leaders meet again for final consultations expected at 1200 GMT.

One major hurdle that appeared to have been overcome was opposition from Cyprus, rooted in long-standing tensions with Turkey over Ankara's refusal to recognise its government on the divided island.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades indicated he could be ready to "compromise" on his objections to the EU opening new "chapters" in Turkey's accession process.

The deal also envisages major aid for Greece, where tens of thousands of refugees are trapped in dire conditions after Balkan countries shut their borders to stop them heading north to richer Germany and Scandinavia.

"I do not hesitate to say that this is a modern-day Dachau, a result of the logic of closed borders," Greek Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis told local television after visiting the overwhelmed border town of Idomeni.


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