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Turkey court refuses to free jailed Greek soldiers: reports


Istanbul (AFP)

A Turkish court on Tuesday ruled that two Greek soldiers charged with espionage and illegally entering the country would remain in jail, in defiance of European Union pressure for their release, reports said.

The pair were arrested on March 2 for entering a military zone in the northern Turkish province of Edirne, which borders Greece.

A local court in Edirne ruled after its latest hearing Tuesday the two soldiers would remain behind bars, the private Dogan news agency reported, without providing any details.

The Turkish lawyers of the two men had asked for their release.

The judgement was announced after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under pressure from EU chiefs at a meeting in Bulgaria late Monday to release the pair.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the bloc's 28 member states had confidence in the Turkish side "to solve that (the issue of the soldiers) in the best way".

An EU meeting in Brussels last week condemned Turkey over the soldiers' arrest, in a show of firm support for Athens.

The soldiers told prosecutors shortly after their arrest that they mistakenly crossed the border after getting lost in the fog.

But according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency, they have been charged with "attempted military espionage" by prosecutors as well as entering a forbidden military zone.

It said the pair testified they entered the Turkish side by tracking footsteps in the snow and filmed images on their mobile phones to send to higher ranking officials.

The arrest of the soldiers have strained bilateral ties between Ankara and Athens, who are already at loggerheads over the exploration of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The longstanding foes have also clashed over Turkish demands that Greece extradite eight Turkish troops wanted over the July 2016 attempted coup aimed at unseating Erdogan.

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