Turkey makes series of political overtures before key EU summit - report

Turkey has made a series of political overtures to European Union leaders ahead of an EU summit on Dec. 10  that will discuss tough sanctions against the country, Bloomberg said on Monday.

Turkey has withdrawn a seismic survey ship from waters contested with neighbours Greece and Cyprus and has indicated that it is ready to take confidence-building measures and enter negotiations with Greece in a dispute over territory, Bloomberg said. It has also sent an envoy to the EU capital Brussels as a means to de-escalate tensions, it said.

EU countries including Greece, Cyprus and France have called for the punitive measures in response to Turkey’s maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are embroiled in a political standoff over territorial claims and potential hydrocarbon resources.

Expectations for a de-escalation in tensions faded in October when Turkey announced naval exercises and sent its research ship, the Oruç Reis, back into contested waters to continue a search for oil and natural gas, a move that had sparked the dispute on Aug. 10.

The ship returned to a port in the southern city of Antalya after completing its mission, the Turkish Energy Ministry said in a statement on Twitter on Monday.

The Turkish government has also made steps to ease concerns by EU leaders over religious intolerance in Turkey, which is majority Sunni Muslim, Bloomberg said.

On Sunday, presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül met with religious leaders and heads of foundations of non-Muslim minorities to assure them the government would work to resolve issues regarding their churches, schools and properties, the news wire reported.

“Religious minorities are the wealth of our country, based on the principle of equal citizenship and common history,” Kalın said in a Twitter post, adding that discriminating against them would weaken Turkey.

One area of concern for the EU regarding religious freedom in Turkey has been the 25-year closure of the Halki Theological School that once trained Greek Orthodox church leaders, including Patriarch Bartholomew I, the organisation’s current head.

Turkey barred the school from accepting new applicants in 1971, before it was shut down in 1985 after all remaining students graduated.


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