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Turkey must meet all EU's conditions to secure visa-free travel - Angela Merkel

Published 23/05/2016

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she told Turkey's president that Ankara must fulfil all the European Union's conditions, including revisions to anti-terror laws, to secure visa-free travel for its citizens.

Speaking after meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Monday, Mrs Merkel also expressed concern about a move to strip legislators of their immunity from prosecution.

But she underlined her commitment to an EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming Europe's migrant influx amid rising tensions with Ankara.

As part of that agreement, the EU planned to accelerate introduction of visa-free entry for Turks. Turkey has fulfilled most of 72 conditions but its refusal to revise anti-terror laws has emerged as a stumbling block.

Mrs Merkel told German media she made clear that "we need the fulfilment of all points".

Turkey, however, is complaining of "double standards" by the EU and demanding that Brussels keep its side of the bargain.

Mr Erdogan's economy adviser, Yigit Bulut, said Turkey could make "very radical decisions", including shelving a Customs Union agreement with the EU, if the bloc fails to "meet promises made to Turkish citizens".

Mr Bulut said: "All sorts of agreements can be suspended, including the Customs Union agreement. All ties with the EU can be revised."

Mrs Merkel, who is facing pressure in Germany to be tough with Mr Erdogan, added that she does not expect the visa waiver to be implemented at the beginning of July as was originally hoped.

The EU has offered Turkey a visa waiver as an incentive - along with up to 6 billion euro (£4.65 billion) for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks - to get it to stop migrants leaving for Europe. As part of the agreement, the EU planned to accelerate the introduction of visa-free entry for Turks, with a target date of June 30.

The EU says Turkey must narrow its definition of "terrorist" and "terrorist act". The bloc is concerned that journalists and political dissenters could be targeted.

Mr Erdogan has accused the EU of supporting an outlawed Kurdish rebel group, and warned that the entire migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges.

The prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, told reporters in Istanbul that Turkey had to fulfil all obligations for the visa-free travel.

Mrs Merkel said that Mr Erdogan "set out his difficulties in the fight against terrorism" and said "changing terrorism laws is not up for debate for him at the moment".

She added that "everything must be done to keep talking".

Mrs Merkel has faced criticism at home, including from within her own conservative bloc, over the deal with Turkey and a perceived unwillingness to address concerns over Mr Erdogan's increasingly autocratic behaviour. Several high-ranking German politicians called on Mrs Merkel to be outspoken during her trip.

"We need independent justice, we need independent media and we need a strong parliament," she said Monday. "And of course the lifting of the immunity of a quarter of the lawmakers in the Turkish Parliament is a cause for deep concern - I made this clear to the Turkish president."

Mrs Merkel said: "The fight against the (Kurdish rebels) PKK is important and necessary, but on the other hand everything must be done so that people of Kurdish origin have a fair chance in Turkey to lead a life that allows them to participate in the prosperity and development of the country."

During her trip to Istanbul, Mrs Merkel met various representatives of Turkish society, including the head of the Turkish lawyers' association, the editor of Hurriyet Daily News, a local Human Rights Watch official and a professor of Kurdish origin who is a constitutional expert, German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said in Berlin.

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