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PM to meet President Erdogan in Turkey

Prime Minister Theresa May is to visit Turkey on Saturday for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Downing Street has announced.

A Number 10 spokesman said that Mrs May was likely to fly direct to Ankara from the US, where she is meeting President Donald Trump on Friday.

It will be Mrs May's first visit to Turkey as PM and comes in the wake of Mr Erdogan's clampdown on opponents following the failed coup in July last year.

Mr Erdogan declared a state of emergency following last summer's coup attempt, which was followed by a wave of arrests, the closure of numerous media outlets and the removal of thousands of public officials - including judges, teachers and university academics - from their jobs.

Asked whether Mrs May will raise concerns over the clampdown during her talks with Mr Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the Number 10 spokesman said: "We have been clear in our support for Turkey's democracy and institutions since the coup last summer.

"The PM will take this opportunity to reiterate our support for that, but we've also been clear that Turkey's response to that must be proportionate and of course we will continue to raise those issues."

Pressed on whether the UK regarded the response so far as having been "proportionate", the spokesman replied: "We are a close friend of Turkey.

"We've been very clear that we support Turkey's rights in support of its democracy and its institutions.

"The Prime Minister and President Erdogan will have a wide range of discussions."

He added: "The visit will reflect the fact that Turkey is an indispensable partner and a close ally for the UK on many issues of global importance, including trade, security and defence ...

"We will be looking at future relationships which we may be looking to explore with Turkey once we have left the EU."

The Downing Street spokesman confirmed the UK continues to support Turkey's negotiations to join the EU.

The country applied to join the EU in 1987 and began accession talks in 2005 but a conclusion to the process continues to seem far off.

Turkey has been part of a customs union with the EU for some goods since 1996.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake said: "From Erdogan to Trump, Theresa May seems to see her natural allies as the populist bullies of the world.

"This is a deeply alarming sign of her priorities for diplomacy in post-Brexit Britain.

"Erdogan has jailed more journalists than any other country.

"He has locked up teachers, professors and policemen without any due process, yet our Government is point-blank refusing to call him out on these egregious crimes.

"The Prime Minister has a responsibility to defend freedom of speech worldwide instead of cosying up to bullying regimes."

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