ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's president warned on Tuesday that his country wouldn't move forward on implementing a refugee readmission agreement with the European Union unless visa requirements are lifted for Turkish citizens without further conditions.
The EU has offered Turkey a visa waiver as incentive — along with up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks — to get it to stop migrants leaving for Europe and taking back those who reach Europe illegally from Turkey. 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.
But for Turkey to enjoy visa-free travel for its citizen narrow it must meet five conditions, out of an initial 72, including narrowing the definition of terrorism. The bloc is concerned that the existing legislation is being used to silence dissent.
"If you're still imposing criteria on Turkey which provides important support to the European Union by preventing those living in camps and pre-fabricated homes who are waiting to go to Europe (from getting there), then I'm sorry," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Erdogan added that if further bilateral talks on the visa issue didn't yield results, "the readmission agreement" on refugees wouldn't be approved by Turkey.
The Turkish president has been pushing for a broader definition of terrorism at a time when security forces are engaged in renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast.
Erdogan's remarks comes one day after holding bilateral talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted Ankara must fulfill all the conditions.
He also said that the funds promised as part of the EU-Turkey deal on migrants hadn't been forthcoming.
"When we look at what has been done so far, unfortunately, we see that this (financial) support is not progressing as promised," Erdogan said.