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Turkey's Prime Minister to Visit Greece - 2004-05-06


Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is visiting Greece Thursday to reinforce ties between the formerly hostile neighbors. Mr. Erdogan is the first Turkish prime minister to visit Greece in 16 years.

Prime Minister Erdogan is expected to dine with his Greek counterpart, Kostas Karamanlis, at his villa northeast of Athens.

With the visit, Mr. Erdogan signals his 17-month-old government's determination to further improve ties with Greece, despite recent setbacks over the island of Cyprus.

Efforts to re-unify Cyprus failed last month, when Greek Cypriots voted overwhelmingly against a United Nations plan that envisages creating a loose federation of Greek and Turkish states on the island. The Turkish Cypriot minority voted in favor of the deal that was firmly backed by the European Union, Turkey and the United States.

Turkish officials say they expect their Greek counterparts to push for a revival of the U.N. plan, with modifications to make it acceptable to the Greek Cypriots.

Another thorny issue on the agenda is the long-running dispute over the territorial waters of the Aegean Sea that separates Turkey from Greece. The two countries came to the brink of war in 1996 over claims to a tiny Aegean rock islet inhabited only by goats. Last minute intervention by former U.S. President Clinton helped to avert a conflict between the fellow NATO members.

Relations have steadily improved since the two neighbors rushed to one another's aid after powerful earthquakes shook both countries in 1999. Despite differences, Greece said that it strongly supports Turkey's bid to become the European Union's first predominantly Muslim member.

On Saturday, Mr. Erdogan is scheduled to travel to the region known as Western Thrace, bordering Turkey, where some 100,000 ethnic Turks reside. He will be the first Turkish leader in half a century to visit the lands formerly ruled by the Ottoman Turks.

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