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Greece and Turkey square up over old disputes

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Greece and Turkey square up over old disputes

Greece and Turkey square up over old disputes
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  • First visit by Turkish president to Greece in 65 years

  • Both countries squared up over old disputes

  • Sparring over the Lausanne Treaty

  • Traded barbs over religious freedom in Western Thrace
  • Greece and Turkey squared up over old disputes during a state visit to Athens by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Designed to boost relations between the two nations, the first visit of a Turkish president in 65 years quickly turned into a blunt grudge-fest between the NATO allies.

    However, by the end of the first day, both sides appeared to pull back from what threatened to be a massive diplomatic flop.

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    An unprecedented bout of diplomatic sparring

    Earlier, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Erdogan turned what was expected to be a staid welcoming ceremony into an unprecedented bout o diplomatic sparring over a host of differences.

    The topics ranged from discrimination against Muslims in northern Greece to Turkey's military presence ethnically-split Cyprus and loose interpretations of an international treaty defining the borders of modern-day Turkey and, by extension, Greece.

    What about the treaty?

    Erdogan told Greek media outlets before he even landed that it needed revision, putting Greeks on defensive.

    At the noon meeting, Pavlopoulos ruled out any change to the treaty while a stern-looking Erdogan said there were details which required clarity.

    Although Erdogan focused on the religious rights of the Turkish Muslim community in northern Greece, he said there were also problems on "military topics".

    "The truth is, I am a little confused regarding it, if what he is putting on the table is to modernise, update and comply with the Lausanne Treaty," Tsipras said at a news conference.

    "This is the bedrock of our friendship," said Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, referring to the treaty. "It has no flaws, it does not need to be reviewed or updated."

    Erdogan responded by saying it was a treaty signed 94 years ago and did not apply only to Greece or Turkey but also included countries like Japan. He said it is also supposed to protect the Turkish minority in northern Greece, whom Erdogan said were still discriminated against.

    "You can't find such treatment of my Greek citizens in Turkey," Erdogan said in a 30-minute exchange.

    Western Thrace

    In northern Greece, Erdogan said, Greece insists on calling the Turkish community there 'Muslim' rather than using the term 'Turkish'.

    There are more than 100,000 in an area known as Western Thrace.

    "They can't accept the word 'Turk' being written outside a school," said Erdogan, who visited the region on Friday.

    Tsipras told Erdogan he too had sensitivities on religious freedoms. The Greek government, he said, had moved ahead with the reconstruction of a series of mosques around the country.

    "Yet not once did it cross our mind to hold an Orthodox religious ceremony in Fethiye mosque (in Athens) as wrongly, in my view, is taking place repeatedly in Hagia Sophia," he said, referring to the structure in Istanbul that was once a church, converted into a mosque and now a museum.

    There have been readings of the Koran in Hagia Sophia in recent years.

    A context of conflict

    The NATO partners teetered on the brink of war in 1974, 1987 and 1996 over long-running disputes on ethnically-divided Cyprus, mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and sovereignty over uninhabited islets there.

    "We allowed your re-entry to NATO," Erdogan told Pavlopoulos, referring to the departure of Greece from the bloc in 1974 after Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in response to a brief, Greek-inspired coup.

    It rejoined in 1980. "If it was not for us, you would not have been able to," Erdogan said.

    While relations have improved, many Greeks believe Turkey has territorial aspirations against their country. Erdogan has said on at least two occasions this is not the case.

    What Greece said

    The two countries agreed to revive a consultation process for confidence-building measures, according to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

    "There is a lot more which unites us, from that which divides us, as long as there is will," Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos told a state banquet in Erdogan's honour.

    What Turkey said

    "We can live side-by-side," Erdogan said in a translation provided by Greek state TV. "Our aim is to build the future differently, with unity, coexistence and solidarity."

    What others are saying

    "Erdogan is the first Turkish president to visit Athens since 1952. He is now doing his best to make sure that the next visit will not take place in the next 150 years," - Wolfgang Piccoli, Co-President of Teneo Intelligence.