EU leaders talk Turkey as ties fester

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European Council President Charles Michel, right, greets Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of a meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. (AP)
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French President Emmanuel Macron (R) speaks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during arrivals for a European Union (EU) summit at the European Council Building in Brussels on October 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 01 October 2020

EU leaders talk Turkey as ties fester

  • Mitsotakis insisted as he arrived that recent "provocation" by Ankara must stop
  • European Council's president warned that "all options remain on the table" if Ankara does not engage constructively in talks

BRUSSELS: EU leaders debated the diplomatic crisis with Turkey on Thursday, haggling over the bloc's red lines as they try to defuse a stand-off in the Mediterranean and conflict in Azerbaijan.
The first night of the two-day European Union summit was dominated by the bloc's tricky ties with Ankara, which is embroiled in a dangerous maritime stand-off with Greece and Cyprus.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisted as he arrived that recent "provocation" by Ankara must stop, while Cyprus is pushing to broaden sanctions over Turkish drilling for gas in its waters.
The leaders will debate the full spectrum of relations with Turkey, which is notionally still a candidate to join the EU but is engaged in a bitter row with Greece and Cyprus over maritime borders and energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
"One thing is certain: Turkish provocation, whether manifested through unilateral actions or through extreme rhetoric, can no longer be tolerated," Greek PM Mitsotakis said.
Ankara has infuriated the EU by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters, and Athens has responded with war games backed by France, raising fears of full-blown conflict.
Turkey and Greece have agreed to resume long-stalled talks, easing tensions slightly, and on Thursday they set up a military hotline at NATO to avoid any accidental clashes in the area.
But there has been no progress in the row with Nicosia, and Turkey still has vessels in Cypriot waters.
In his summit invitation, European Council president Charles Michel warned that "all options remain on the table" if Ankara does not engage constructively in talks.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has given full backing to Greece and Cyprus, even to the extent of sending military forces to join Greek war games in the region, reiterated his support, saying "solidarity is non-negotiable".
Options for action could include tough economic sanctions against Turkey, but officials stress that the focus for now is on trying to find a solution through talks.
Despite the growing tensions with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, the EU is wary of alienating an important neighbour, a NATO member which played a crucial role in ending the continent's 2015-16 migrant crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a sober assessment, insisting that diplomacy was still the best way forward.
"I will point out that our relations with Turkey are of course very complex and that the European Union has a great interest in developing a really constructive relationship with Turkey, despite all the difficulties," she said.
EU officials say that as well as brandishing the stick of sanctions threats, they are also dangling the carrot of closer ties if Turkey improves its behaviour.
Further complicating the Turkey talks are allegations of meddling by Ankara in the conflict in Nagorny-Karabakh, where nearly 130 people have been killed in a flare-up between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Macron alleged that he had seen evidence that Syrian mercenary fighters had used Turkish territory to join the fighting on the side of Azerbaijan.
In Ankara, Erdogan told his parliament that the EU had made itself a "hostage" of the "spoiled Greeks and the Greek Cypriot administration", and vowed not to capitulate.
"We will maintain our determined approach that keep channels of dialogue open until the end," he said.
The Turkey row has had a knock-on effect on Belarus, with Cyprus blocking long-trailed sanctions over the political crisis there to try to get more EU measures against Ankara over its drilling activity.
EU officials have drawn up a list of 40 Belarus officials seen as responsible for post-election repression in the country, and they will face sanctions if Cyprus drops its veto.
According to a draft of the summit's conclusions, seen by AFP, the leaders will call for sanctions to be imposed "without delay".
But, despite Michel holding talks with both Cypriot and Greek premiers before the summit to try to clear the deadlock, diplomats are not optimistic a way out will be found.
The stalemate leaves the EU lagging behind international parters like Britain and Canada, which have already sanctioned Belarus officials including strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko.
While Cyprus has widespread support in its dispute with Turkey, its intransigence on Belarus sanctions has infuriated some countries, with diplomats accusing Nicosia of effectively shielding Lukashenko.


French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.