ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to throw open the border between Turkey and Bulgaria for millions of Syrian immigrants in the wake of a vote to freeze negotiations over Turkey's accession into the European Union.
The move would subject European nations already embroiled in political turmoil over the crush of Middle Eastern refugees to a new wave of as many as 3.5 million people presently living in camps in Turkey under the terms of a deal struck with the EU in March.
The European Union Parliament on Thursday voted to temporarily freeze negotiations over Turkey's admission, though the vote was only symbolic and does not have any immediate practical repercussions. Germany, France and other nations continue to back negotiations for Turkish accession into the Eurozone, talks that have dragged on for more than a decade.
"You did not keep your word. When 50,000 refugees were at the Kapikule [Turkey-Bulgaria] border, you cried out. You started to say: 'What will we do if Turkey opens border gates?' If you go too far, the border gates will be opened," Erdogan said. "Neither me nor my people will be affected by these dry threats."
Erdogan criticized European leaders as hypocrites for criticizing Turkey while refusing to accept the burden of "feeding the 3 to 3.5 million refugees in Turkey."
Under the terms of the March deal, Turkey agreed to continue housing the estimated 3.5 million Syrians that have poured over the border fleeing the nation's bloody civil war, while improving conditions inside massive refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border. In exchange, Turkish citizens were supposed to have been granted visa-free travel rights across parts of Europe, but that was put on hold after a failed coup attempt sought to overthrow Erdogan in July.
Erdogan's government has been critical of the EU in the wake of the coup, saying allies -- Turkey is a member of NATO -- were indifferent to the incident. Much of the West has been critical of Turkey's mass crackdown in the months since the rebellion, purging the military and civilian government institutions of thousands of individuals thought to be loyal to the coup's alleged mastermind, preacher Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in the United States.