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Asia-Pacific

Hollande in Turkey in bid to improve ties

media François Hollande (R) Abdullah Gul (L) in Ankara, 27 Jan. 2014 © Reuters

French President François Hollande, in Turkey for a two day visit aimed at improving relations between between the two countries, on Monday attended a ceremony at the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder, Kemal Ataturk.

He then met his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, on what is the first state visit by a French president in 22 years.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s outspoken opposition to any future membership of the European Union for Turkey strained relationships between Paris and Ankara.

And relations hit an all-time low after French lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I constituted genocide.

Although the legislation was later declared invalid by France’s constitutional court, it severely damaged business ties.

However France is now keen to benefit from Turkey’s economic growth and Hollande is accompanied by seven cabinet ministers, and a business delegation.

Deals are expected to be signed in various fields including nuclear energy and infrastructure projects.

France's share of the Turkish market halved to three percent between 2009 and 2012 just as Turkey was growing as an emerging economic power, tripling the size of its economy over the 10 years to 2012.

But French companies enjoyed a more successful 2013, sealing deals in Turkey worth 15 billion euros.

Following his talks in Ankara, Hollande will head to Istanbul to attend an economic forum bringing together Turkish and French business leaders.

On the political front, the trip comes at a particularly difficult time for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is embroiled in a widening corruption scandal that has implicated members of his inner circle, including ministers and reportedly his own son.

Erdogan blames his woes on what he says is a coup plot by supporters of an erstwhile ally, US-exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who hold positions of influence in many parts of the state apparatus including the police and courts.

But his response to the graft probe, a wholesale purge of police and prosecutors and moves to tighten government controls on the judiciary, has provoked deep concerns about the state of democracy in Turkey.

Hollande is expected to follow the line of European leaders who met Erdogan on his visit to Brussels last week aimed at advancing Turkey's EU membership bid.

Paris wants to press home the point that accession talks will not progress unless Ankara upholds its commitments "to the rule of law, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and the respect for basic freedoms," a presidential source said.

Negotiations between Brussels and the country of 76 million people only resumed in November; after a three-year freeze.

Hollande has so far deflected questions on his own view towards Turkey, saying the EU has ruled out membership before 2020, after his first term in office ends.

This is also President Hollande’s first trip abroad since his announcement on Saturday that he has split from his longstanding partner Valerie Trierweiler.

 

 
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