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Erdogan defends minister after spat with Greece

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, June 11, 2013.
2021-04-16

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SULAIMANI — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday (April 16) robustly defended his foreign minister after he traded barbs in an unusually public spat with his Greek counterpart.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias's visit to Ankara on Thursday ended in disarray when he and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu used their closing statements to accuse each other of discrimination and violating international laws.

"Turkey has violated international laws and conventions in the Aegean Sea and in the eastern Mediterranean," Dendias told Cavusoglu at one point.

"Turkey has carried out 400 (military) flights over Greek soil," said Dendias.

"If you heavily accuse my country and people before the press, I have to be in a position to respond to that," Cavusoglu retorted.

The oddly undiplomatic press event became the dominant talking point on Turkish news shows and overshadowed what was meant to be an attempt by the two NATO neighbours to mend ties after a year of disputes.

It was the first time the two ministers met since the two countries teetered on the edge of war when their gunboats collided during a Turkish push into disputed eastern Mediterranean waters last August.

Erdogan said Cavusoglu "could not be any softer" with Dandias because "that would not suit our country or people".

"Our foreign minister put him in his place in the face of this behaviour and attitude," Erdogan told reporters after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul.

The Turkish leader said his own meeting with Dendias earlier that day was held in a "warm atmosphere."

Dendias had also described his talks with Erdogan as "extraordinary."

Turkey had said last month that Dendias was coming to prepare what could have been a groundbreaking summit between Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

But the heated exchange highlighted the deep diplomatic divide that stands between the two neighbours and no summit was announced.

The disagreements on Thursday included each country's treatment of their respective Turkish Muslim and Greek Orthodox minorities.

Erdogan took issue with Dendias's decision to pay a visit to the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians in Istanbul on Wednesday.

"You don't show the necessary ... concern for our 150,000 (Turks in Greece). You appoint their chief mufti," Erdogan said. "We do not appoint the patriarch here."

(NRT Digital Media/AFP)