Erdogan calls for minority Muslims in Greece to be respected

Komotini (Greece) (AFP) –


Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the rights of the Turkish-speaking Muslim minority in Thrace, northeastern Greece to be respected during a visit on Friday.

"We (Turkey) continue to work hard to improve the quality of life of our Greek origin citizens, like our citizens. And we believe it is our right to expect the same approach from Greece," Erdogan said during a speech in the town of Komotini.

Nearly 1,000 members of the minority group -- which numbers between 120,000 and 150,000 in total -- warmly welcomed the Turkish president to the region which borders Turkey, an AFP journalist said.

Erdogan's official visit to Greece on Thursday was the first by a Turkish president in 65 years.

He denounced the "discrimination" of the Muslim minority during talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, citing terms in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which he said had not been "respected".

The treaty, which defined the borders of the Turkish state at the end of the Ottoman Empire, includes a Greco-Turkish chapter devoted to minority rights.

Contrary to its terms, Athens appoints religious jurists known as muftis instead of allowing the local community to do so, Erdogan said in Athens.

"You are the bridge between Turkey and Greece, we see you like this," Erdogan told the crowd as he called for "unity" and "solidarity".

"Right now, in the Greek parliament, four MPs represent you. These lawmakers must work hard."

Tsipras on Thursday countered Erdogan's claims by urging him to speed up social reforms in Turkey, where many are still imprisoned after a crackdown by his government that followed the attempted army coup last year.