Category Archives: Balkans

Greece to extend territorial waters south, west of Crete: Local media.

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Amid rising tensions between Ankara and Athens, Greece plans to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles to the south and west of the island of Crete in March, local media reported on Sunday.

The government made the decision based on favorable international and regional developments and to gain an upper hand over the opposition by (Watch Video Here) delivering on a long-held demand ahead of parliamentary elections slated for summer 2023, online news outlet In.Gr reported, citing sources from the office of the presidency.

According to the news outlet, a unilateral decision by Egypt on Dec.11 to demarcate its western maritime borders with neighboring Libya and exploration work by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil off Crete also prompted the move.

Greek authorities did not expect a particularly harsh reaction from neighboring Türkiye amid heightened tensions over several issues including the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Seas, Cyprus, and arms accumulation, the publication said. (Watch Video Here)

The move would also significantly help Athens’ wider regional strategy to curb Ankara and its influence over Libya. Since early November, Exxon Mobil has been conducting seismic surveys in two blocks off Crete hoping to discover energy resources.

In response, Libya accused Greece of exploiting the Libyan crisis to impose a fait accompli and decried Athens’ “irresponsible behavior” of striking a deal with international companies to launch research and exploration efforts on the maritime borders between them.

Türkiye and Greece are at odds over several issues, including competing claims to jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, overlapping claims over their continental shelves, maritime boundaries, airspace, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus, the status of the islands in the Aegean Sea and migrants. (Watch Video Here)

Relations deteriorated after Erdoğan said Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him, when the Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis lobbied to block sales of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye during a visit to the United States, despite previously agreeing with Erdoğan “to not include third countries in our dispute.”

In May, Erdoğan cut ties with Mitsotakis and declared all other channels of communication between the countries closed. (Watch Video Here)

The most recent incidents to have triggered tensions include two Greek coast guard boats opening fire on a cargo ship in international waters, continued pushbacks by Greek elements recorded by Turkish UAVs and previous harassment of Turkish fighter jets on a NATO mission by Greece’s Russian-made S-300s.

On the other side, Türkiye on Friday accused the Greek Cypriot administration of increasing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean after a consortium of Italian and French energy companies found more natural gas off the island earlier this week. (Watch Video Here)

The Greek Cypriot administration’s hydrocarbon activities “have been carried out unilaterally” and “violate the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, who are one of the co-owners of all natural resources of the island,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“These activities also increase the tension, and threaten peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said in a statement, adding that Türkiye “would not allow hydrocarbon exploration or exploitation activities in its continental shelf without consent.”

A consortium of Italy’s Eni and France’s TotalEnergies found more natural gas off Cyprus, the country’s Energy (Watch Video Here) Ministry said on Wednesday.

The Greek Cypriot administration’s exploration program is hotly disputed by Türkiye, which cites overlapping jurisdictions either on its own continental shelf or in the waters of the Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

The island of Cyprus has been doomed to a decadeslong struggle between its two people, Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Ethnic attacks starting in the 1960s forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety and a 1974 coup aiming at Greece’s annexation led to Türkiye’s military intervention.

The conflict has been ongoing for long years, drawing multiple international efforts for a solution. The U.N. has been working for years to reach a comprehensive agreement on the Cyprus issue, proposing a reunification plan for a federation and sponsoring peace talks that eventually broke down. (Watch Video Here)

While Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration support the U.N.’s suggestion of a federal Greek Cypriot administration, the TRNC and its guarantor Türkiye have been resolutely calling for a two-state solution, stressing that “the sovereign equality and the equal international status of the Turkish Cypriots are non-negotiable.”

As guarantor power, Türkiye is also at loggerheads with its Aegean neighbor Greece over both the Cyprus issue and gas and oil exploration rights in their shared waters.


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Greek boats harass cargo ship in international waters: Sources.

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Two Greek coast guard boats opened harassment fire on a cargo ship in international waters in the Aegean some 18 kilometers (11 miles) off Türkiye’s southwestern coast of Bozcaada on Saturday, diplomatic sources said.

The Comoros-flagged “Anatolian” ship with a crew of 18 – six Egyptians, four Somalis, five Azerbaijanis and three Turkish nationals – was attacked while sailing in international waters, the Turkish Coast Guard Command said in a statement.

After learning about the incident, the Turkish coast guard dispatched two boats and the Greek boats left the area.

No one was injured on the ship, it added.

The Turkish Coast Guard Command shared a video on its website of the harassment fire and a map pinpointing the location where the incident occurred

Diplomatic sources said that an explanation and investigation into the incident “that is totally in violation of international laws” has been demanded from Athens and protested.

Following Turkish accusations of harassment fire, the Greek coast guard confirmed it fired warning shots at a ship that was “moving suspiciously” in Greek territorial waters off the island of Lesbos.

The Anatolian was anchored Sunday in the Dardanelles Strait off the Turkish coast, Anadolu Agency (AA) reported.

The alleged incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two NATO ally neighbors.

Ankara recently accused Athens of “occupying” some Aegean islands and harassing Turkish jets with Russian-made S-300 defense systems stationed there. Athens denies the claims.

Türkiye has stepped up criticism of Greece stationing troops on islands in the Eastern Aegean, near the Turkish coast and in many cases visible from shore. These islands were required to be demilitarized under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Treaty of Paris, so any troops or weapons on the islands are strictly forbidden.

It was reported recently that Turkish jets on a reconnaissance mission, flying in international airspace, had been harassed by the Greek defense system stationed on Crete.

Türkiye is planning to submit to NATO and its allies the radar logs showing how a Greek S-300 air defense system harassed Turkish F-16 jets during a mission in international airspace.

On the other side, this week, the Greek government wrote letters to NATO, the European Union and the United Nations, asking them to formally condemn increasingly aggressive talk by Turkish officials and suggesting that tensions could escalate into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the behavior of Türkiye risked “a situation similar to that currently unfolding in some other part of our continent,” referring to the war in Ukraine.

Historic rivals while also fellow members of NATO, Türkiye and Greece have been at odds over issues ranging from overflights and the status of Aegean islands to maritime boundaries and hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean, as well as ethnically split Cyprus.

The tensions between Türkiye and Greece are also likely to come up in a potential meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later this month, which is under discussion, Reuters reported quoting a Turkish official.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday during a news conference in the northern city of Thessaloniki that Athens would try to keep communication channels with Ankara open.

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Two Greek coast guard boats opened harassment fire on a cargo ship in international waters in the Aegean some 18 kilometers (11 miles) off Türkiye’s southwestern coast of Bozcaada on Saturday, diplomatic sources said.

The Comoros-flagged “Anatolian” ship with a crew of 18 – six Egyptians, four Somalis, five Azerbaijanis and three Turkish nationals – was attacked while sailing in international waters, the Turkish Coast Guard Command said in a statement.

After learning about the incident, the Turkish coast guard dispatched two boats and the Greek boats left the area.

No one was injured on the ship, it added.

The Turkish Coast Guard Command shared a video on its website of the harassment fire and a map pinpointing the location where the incident occurred

Diplomatic sources said that an explanation and investigation into the incident “that is totally in violation of international laws” has been demanded from Athens and protested.

Following Turkish accusations of harassment fire, the Greek coast guard confirmed it fired warning shots at a ship that was “moving suspiciously” in Greek territorial waters off the island of Lesbos.

The Anatolian was anchored Sunday in the Dardanelles Strait off the Turkish coast, Anadolu Agency (AA) reported.

The alleged incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two NATO ally neighbors.

Ankara recently accused Athens of “occupying” some Aegean islands and harassing Turkish jets with Russian-made S-300 defense systems stationed there. Athens denies the claims.

Türkiye has stepped up criticism of Greece stationing troops on islands in the Eastern Aegean, near the Turkish coast and in many cases visible from shore. These islands were required to be demilitarized under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Treaty of Paris, so any troops or weapons on the islands are strictly forbidden.

It was reported recently that Turkish jets on a reconnaissance mission, flying in international airspace, had been harassed by the Greek defense system stationed on Crete.

Türkiye is planning to submit to NATO and its allies the radar logs showing how a Greek S-300 air defense system harassed Turkish F-16 jets during a mission in international airspace.

On the other side, this week, the Greek government wrote letters to NATO, the European Union and the United Nations, asking them to formally condemn increasingly aggressive talk by Turkish officials and suggesting that tensions could escalate into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the behavior of Türkiye risked “a situation similar to that currently unfolding in some other part of our continent,” referring to the war in Ukraine.

Historic rivals while also fellow members of NATO, Türkiye and Greece have been at odds over issues ranging from overflights and the status of Aegean islands to maritime boundaries and hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean, as well as ethnically split Cyprus.

The tensions between Türkiye and Greece are also likely to come up in a potential meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later this month, which is under discussion, Reuters reported quoting a Turkish official.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday during a news conference in the northern city of Thessaloniki that Athens would try to keep communication channels with Ankara open.

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Greek PM Mitsotakis ‘no longer exists’ after US trip: Erdoğan

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him after the latter’s remarks and criticism of Turkey during his recent trip to the United States.

In a televised address following a Cabinet meeting, Erdoğan said Mitsotakis spoke against Turkey and urged the U.S. Congress not to allow F-16 fighter jets to be sold to Ankara.

The Biden administration has informally reached out to Congress to seek approval for a proposed sale of advanced weapons and other equipment for NATO ally Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

The package is separate from the multibillion-dollar upgrade deal that Turkey requested from the U.S. last October, asking to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.

During his visit to Washington last week, Mitsotakis warned a joint session of Congress against supporting the Biden administration’s proposed military sales to Turkey, claiming such a move could create additional instability in the region.

“We had agreed with him to not include third countries in our dispute,” Erdoğan said. “Despite this, last week, he visited the U.S. and spoke at Congress and warned them not to give F-16s to us,” he noted.

Erdoğan also said Turkey is calling off a key meeting that was planned to be held between the two governments this year.

“This year we were supposed to have a strategic council meeting. There’s no longer anyone called Mitsotakis in my book. I will never agree to have a meeting with him because we only walk on the same path as politicians who keep their promises, who have character and who are honorable,” the president said.

The U.S. is likely “to make up its own mind on selling F-16s to Turkey without needing to consult the Greek premier,” he added.

Erdoğan also accused Greece of harboring members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the culprit of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, and of establishing military bases against Turkey.

Greece this month formally extended its bilateral military agreement with the United States for five years, replacing an annual review of the deal that grants the U.S. military access to three bases in mainland Greece as well as the American naval presence on the island of Crete.

“Who is Greece threatening with these bases? Why is Greece establishing these bases?” Erdoğan asked.

Erdoğan also reiterated that Turkey made a mistake by re-accepting Greece into NATO’s military wing in 1980.

Turkey and Greece are at odds over a number of issues, including competing claims over jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, air space, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus and the status of the islands in the Aegean Sea.

A dispute over drilling rights for potential oil and gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea led to a tense naval standoff in the summer of 2020. Greece has since embarked on a major military modernization program.

But the two countries also cooperate on energy projects, including a newly built pipeline that transports natural gas from Azerbaijan to Western Europe. The pipeline, which crosses Turkey and Greece, is part of Europe’s effort to reduce dependence on Russian energy.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that their excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations.

Officials from both countries resumed exploratory talks in 2021 after a five-year pause to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations to begin but haven’t made much progress

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Serbia vows to fight Kosovo’s joining of European Council.

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Kosovo applied to become a member of the Council of Europe Thursday, with officials in Belgrade vowing to prevent Pristina from joining any international organizations and stepping up their anti-recognition campaign.

The application was filed weeks after Russia, a key ally of Serbia, pulled out of the body in March after calls grew for Moscow’s expulsion over its invasion of Ukraine.

Being accepted into the continent’s top human rights organization requires a two-thirds vote by members, and with Russia not recognizing Kosovo as an independent state, there had been a risk any previous application would fail.

Kosovo says it now has enough backing from the 46-member body to be accepted and the government said it had ordered the foreign ministry to start membership procedures.

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Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008. But Serbia as well as its powerful allies China and Russia still do not recognize the move.

Kosovo has incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights, a founding document of the Council of Europe, in its constitution. The Council of Europe, which was set up after World War II to promote human rights, the rule of law and democracy, already has an office in Kosovo to assist with democratic reforms.

“Kosovo is the most democratic country in the (Western Balkans) region,” Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz said on her ministry’s Facebook page, as she announced the application.

But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his country would “do everything” to oppose Pristina’s move in a “peaceful and diplomatic way.”

He previously warned Serbia would renew efforts to convince countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence to change their minds.

“In the coming weeks, we will do our best to show that we can fight and preserve our country,” he told a local television channel Thursday.

Vucic called for a national security council meeting Friday on the issue.

“There will be no retreat, no surrender in the face of blackmails and ultimatums,” he added.

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Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic also said on Friday that four countries have withdrawn the recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

“Through the work of our security services, we have come to the information that at least two large countries are working to support Pristina on new recognitions and to prevent the campaign of withdrawing recognition,” he said.

He said that the Government of Serbia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would “continue to fight fiercely” and work on withdrawing the recognition of Kosovo.

Gervalla-Schwarz, however, said that Pristina has no information that four countries have withdrawn their recognition of Kosovo.

“We are under pressure to accept the violation of territorial integrity, the violation of international public law, the legal order, to our detriment. The U.S. Government, through a statement from the State Department, issued on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Washington Agreement, made it clear that the U.S. considers the agreement valid and called on Belgrade and Pristina to respect the agreement,” Selakovic said.

Kosovo agreed to freeze for a year its efforts to join international organizations, based on the terms of a U.S.-mediated deal in September 2020.

Serbia, for its part, agreed to halt its campaign to persuade countries to revoke their decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have remained high since the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian militias and Serbian forces in Kosovo, then a Serbian province stripped of its autonomy.

The conflict left more than 13,000 dead and 1,617 people still missing. NATO’s intervention in the form of a bombing campaign on Serbia ended the war.

Kosovo is already recognized by 117 countries, including the U.S. and most of the European Union member states. Spain, Romania, Greece, Greek Cyprus and Slovakia are EU nations that have not recognized Kosovo, a landlocked country with a predominantly Albanian population of 1.9 million, as an independent state.

In November 2015, Kosovo failed to become a member of the U.N. cultural organization UNESCO after Belgrade lobbied against the application. But Kosovo joined the European football body UEFA and the international soccer body FIFA in May 2016.

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GCR slams Greece for ignoring migrants stranded on river.

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AGreece-based rights group criticized the country for ignoring dozens of irregular migrants, including children, stranded on the river border with Turkey.

The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) said it had asked officials on Monday to rescue 46 people, including 10 minors, stuck on an islet on the Evros river, but had yet to receive a reply.

In the case of another group of 37 people, Greek authorities last week said they were unable to locate them and all contact was subsequently lost, the GCR said.

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The organization said that it had alerted authorities to rescue at least 230 asylum seekers from Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq in the Evros area this year.

In some cases, the authorities never responded, it said.

And in at least three cases, GCR said it had information that asylum seekers from Turkey and Syria had been sent back to Turkey without being given a chance to apply for protection.

On Sunday, a female migrant was found dead after a shooting erupted while she and others tried to cross the Evros into Greece.

Greece is often the country of choice for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East as they try to reach a better life in the European Union.



After large numbers of migrants tried to cross the border from Turkey in March 2020, Greece bolstered patrols and installed cameras, radar and a 40-kilometer (25-mile) steel fence over five meters (16 feet) high in the area.

Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for asylum-seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.

Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back asylum-seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.

Greece’s pushbacks of irregular migrants have increased by 97% in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to a report by the Norwegian nongovernmental organization (NGO) Aegean Boat Report, which monitors the movement of migrants in the area

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Greece confiscates Russian oil tanker under scope of EU sanctions.

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Greek authorities confiscated a Russian crude oil tanker as part of European Union sanctions against Moscow, a shipping ministry official said Tuesday.

The Russian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was seized near the coastal city of Karystos in Evia.

“It has been seized as part of EU sanctions,” a shipping ministry official said.

A coastguard official said the vessel had been seized, but not its oil cargo.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the EU has blacklisted over 700 people linked to the Kremlin or accused of supporting the invasion.

The bloc formally adopted its fifth package of sanctions against Russia on April 8.

In addition to coal, the EU sanctions ban imports from Russia of many other commodities and products, including wood, rubber, cement, fertilizers, high-end seafood, such as caviar, and spirits, such as vodka, for a total additional value estimated in 5.5 billion euros ($5.9 billion) a year.

The EU also restricted the export of a number of products to Russia, including jet fuel, quantum computers, advanced semiconductors, high-end electronics, software, sensitive machinery and transportation equipment, for a total value of 10 billion euros a year.

The sanctions also forbid Russian companies from participating in public procurement in the EU and extend prohibitions on using cryptocurrencies that are considered a potential means to circumvent sanctions.

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Greece denies entry to academic studying Western Thrace Turks.

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Greece prohibited an academic studying the Turkish community of Western Thrace from entering the country on Saturday.

The academic, Murat Derin, is writing a book on the Friendship, Equality and Peace Party (DEB), founded by the Western Thracian Turks’ leader Dr. Sadık Ahmet. Derin is working at Trakya University and is on the board of management of the Rumelia Balkan Strategic Studies Center.

Elected twice as a lawmaker to the Greek parliament, Sadık Ahmet led campaigns for the rights of Turks living in Western Thrace in the country, after years of persecution by Athens.

Derin told Anadolu Agency (AA) that he wanted to enter Greece for research at the Ipsala-Kipi border gate early Saturday but the Greek border police stopped him.

He added that the police forces told him his entry into the country was prohibited.

“When I asked them ‘What is the problem, why is my entry prohibited?’ they initially said ‘We do not know’ but later added ‘You know why?’” Derin said.

“European Union member Greece has subjected me to such a treatment without any criminal investigation,” he said, underlining that such implementations by the Greek authorities will not cause him to give up on his research.

“Today I understood the pains that the Western Thracian Turks have been suffering for centuries as well as those who were stripped of their citizenship and returned at border gates within the scope of the Greek Citizenship Law Article 19,” Derin continued, saying that Greek authorities who treated a Turkish citizen like this could subject Western Thracian Turks to harsher restrictions.

Turkey has long decried Greek violations of the rights of its Muslim and Turkish minorities, from closing down mosques and shutting down schools to not letting Muslim Turks elect their own religious leaders.

Under a 2008 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling, Western Thracian Turks’ right to use the word “Turkish” in the names of associations was guaranteed, but Athens has failed to implement the ruling, effectively banning Turkish identity in the country.

Greece’s Western Thrace region is home to a Muslim Turkish community of around 150,000.

In 1983, the nameplate of the Xanthi (Iskeçe) Turkish Union was taken down and the group was completely banned in 1986, on the pretext that the word “Turkish” was in its name.

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HRW slams Greece for ‘double standards’ on irregular migrants.

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The Human Rights Watch Thursday accused Greek authorities of showing double standards in accepting Ukrainian refugees but rejecting irregular Afghan and other migrants at the border with Turkey.

In a 29-page report, the rights watchdog said Greek forces detained, stripped, and stole the belongings of irregular migrants from Afghanistan and the Middle East before sending them back toward the Turkish side.

It added that none of these were legally registered and hence had no right to seek refuge.

“There can be no denying that the Greek government is responsible for the illegal pushbacks at its borders, and using proxies to carry out these illegal acts does not relieve it of any liability,” said Bill Frelick, the Human Rights Watch’s refugee and migrant rights director.

The watchdog also criticized Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi for calling Ukrainian refugees to be “real refugees.”

“At a time when Greece welcomes Ukrainians as ‘real refugees,’ it conducts cruel pushbacks on Afghans and others fleeing similar war and violence,” Frelick said.

“The double standard makes a mockery of the purported shared European values of equality, the rule of law, and human dignity,” he added.

According to the group’s interviews with 26 Afghans, 23 of them were pushed back at Greece’s borders between September 2021 and February 2022.

The 23 men, two women, and one boy confirmed that after their detention, they were kept with little or no food or anything to drink before being pushed back to Turkey.

Around 16 migrants interviewed confirmed that the men who pushed them to the Turkish border spoke Arabic and wore black or commando-style uniforms with balaclava helmets to cover their faces.

“Three people interviewed were able to talk with the men ferrying the boats. The boat pilots told them (that) they were also migrants employed by the Greek police with promises of being provided with documents enabling them to travel onward,” the watchdog said.

“We are here doing this work for three months, and then they give us … a document. With this, we can move freely inside Greece and later get a ticket for another country,” one of the migrants interviewed by the human rights organization said of the boat’s operator.

The driver was believed to be a Pakistani, the report said.

The group urged Greece to immediately halt all illegal pushbacks from Greek territory and discontinue using third-country nationals as proxies to carry out these expulsions.

It added that the European Commission, Greece’s primary source of financial assistance for migration control, should require Athens to end all “summary returns and collective expulsions” of asylum-seekers to Turkey and “press authorities to establish an independent and effective border monitoring mechanism that would investigate allegations of violence at borders, and ensure that none of its funding contributes to violations of fundamental rights and EU laws.”

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Turkey help escape Greek citizen, UN staff from Ukraine.

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As Turkey continues its large-scale evacuation efforts in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of the country, diplomatic sources have revealed that Ankara also helped evacuate personnel belonging to several international organizations as well as foreign citizens.

Among the individuals who Turkey helped facilitate the evacuation of were personnel from the United Nations and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the sources told Daily Sabah, adding that citizens from several countries, including a Greek national, were also evacuated.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also praised Turkey’s efforts in a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday.

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“Turkey is making great efforts to achieve a cease-fire in the Russia-Ukraine war and to re-establish peace. It is also working hard on the issues of humanitarian aid and evacuations,” Erdoğan told Guterres, according to a statement from the Communications Directorate.


Since Russia launched its war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, more than 2.5 million people have fled to other countries, with some 2 million more displaced within the country.




Erdoğan, Mitsotakis emphasize importance of Turkey-Greek union.

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The meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis focused on the regional benefits of enhancing bilateral cooperation and emphasis of positive developments between the two countries in their meeting held on Sunday.

According to a statement by the presidential communications directorate, the two leaders also highlighted the idea that Turkey and Greece have a special responsibility in building Europe’s security in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.



They also agreed on keeping communication channels open and improving bilateral relations despite disagreements between Turkey and Greece, the statement said.



Touching on the steps taken by Turkey to turn a new page in relations with Greece, Erdoğan said he believes they will take steps to address problems in the Aegean Sea, minorities, counterterrorism initiatives, irregular migration and more.

Noting that the problems can be solved through sincere and honest dialogue, Erdoğan said the two neighboring countries need to always keep in touch and just during crises.

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The luncheon started at 2.00 p.m. local time (1100GMT) at the Vahdettin Mansion. The meeting was held behind doors.

According to a statement released by Ankara, bilateral relations and regional issues would be discussed during the reception.

“The meeting is expected to evaluate issues related to bilateral relations, as well as current geopolitical developments and regional and international issues, including the reflections of the Russia-Ukraine War,” it added.

The meeting comes as Ankara seeks to shore up its credentials as a regional power player by mediating the conflict.

On Thursday, the Turkish resort city of Antalya hosted the first talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba since the start of Russia’s invasion.

However, Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba said the meeting yielded “no progress” in achieving a cease-fire to the fighting that has displaced 2.2 million people and forced them to flee across Ukraine’s borders. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow wanted to continue negotiations with Kyiv.

Turkey stressed that humanitarian corridors in Ukraine should be kept open without any obstacles, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said underlining the need for a sustainable cease-fire.

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Earlier on Sunday, Mitsotakis attended a service at Istanbul’s Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and met with the Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.

The Greek government spokesperson this week said Mitsotakis was already due to visit Patriarch Bartholomew on Sunday and had been invited for lunch by Erdoğan at the presidential mansion on the banks of the Bosphorus.

Mitsotakis had said he was heading to Turkey in a “productive mood” and with “measured” expectations.

“As partners in NATO, we are called upon … to try to keep our region away from any additional geopolitical crisis,” he told a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

“It’s our long-standing position that the door to dialogue must remain open, just as the door to threats must remain closed,” Mitsotakis also said of his scheduled meeting with Erdoğan.

Alongside its European partners, Athens strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, calling it a “revisionist” attack and “flagrant violation of international law.”

NATO allies and neighbors Turkey and Greece are at odds over a number of issues, including competing claims over jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, air space, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus and the status of the islands in the Aegean Sea.

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A dispute over drilling rights for potential oil and gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea led to a tense naval standoff in the summer of 2020. Greece has since embarked on a major military modernization program.

But the two countries also cooperate on energy projects, including a newly built pipeline that transports natural gas from Azerbaijan to Western Europe. The pipeline, which crosses Turkey and Greece, is part of Europe’s effort to reduce dependence on Russian energy.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that their excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

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Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations.

Senior Turkish officials continue to question Greek sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea but, last year, Ankara resumed bilateral talks with Athens.



‘Greek discrimination against Turkish minority violates EU laws’

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A European political party criticized Greece for its discriminatory policies toward the Muslim Turkish minority, saying that it violates the country’s obligations under European Union law.

In a letter to the European Commission on Wednesday, the president of the European Free Alliance (EFA), Lorena Lopez de Lacalle, asked about the steps they would take to ensure that Greece’s Muslim Turkish minority can exercise their right to education without compromising their religious duties, the EFA said in a statement.



The letter, which was sent to European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, expressed the party’s concern about a recent decree banning minority primary schools in the regions where most of Greece’s Muslim Turkish minority is concentrated from closing early on Fridays to allow their students to attend prayers, according to the statement.

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“Preventing school children from attending Friday prayers constitutes discrimination against the Muslim community and (there are) fears that the goal of such a decision is ‘assimilation,'” the statement said.

Against this background, the party said: “Will the commission open an investigation to establish whether the actions of the Greek authorities in this case constitute a violation of their obligations under European law?”

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The statement also drew attention to the current situation of Turkish minority schools.

It underlined that the number of schools offering curricula in both Turkish and Greek had declined from 230 to 103 in the last two decades.

“Taken together, these measures suggest a deliberate campaign to undermine the community’s rights both to practice their religion freely and to receive education in their native language.”

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A Greek court ruling Wednesday denying an application by the Turkish Union of Xanthi, one of the three most important organizations of the Turkish minority of Western Thrace, to reregister came in response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) more than a decade ago that Greece has never carried out.

Under the 2008 ECHR ruling, the right of Turks in Western Thrace to use the word “Turkish” in names of associations was guaranteed, but Athens has failed to carry out the ruling, effectively banning the Turkish group’s identity.

Greece’s Western Thrace region is home to a Muslim Turkish community of 150,000.

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In 1983, the nameplate of the Turkish Union of Xanthi (Iskeçe Türk Birliği) was removed and the group was completely banned in 1986 on the pretext that “Turkish” was in its name.

To apply the ECHR decision, in 2017, the Greek parliament passed a law enabling banned associations to apply for re-registration, but the legislation included major exceptions that complicated applications.

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Turkey has long decried Greek violations of the rights of its Muslims and the Turkish minority, from closing mosques and shutting schools to not letting Muslim Turks elect their religious leaders.

The measures violate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne as well as ECHR verdicts, making Greece a state that flouts the law, Turkish officials say.

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