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Turkish president won't change anti-terror laws for visa deal with EU

By Martin Smith
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is refusing to change his country's anti-terror laws. File Photo by Maryam Rahmanian/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/4c620d2d7046a0beabd765772c8fb5bd/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is refusing to change his country's anti-terror laws. File Photo by Maryam Rahmanian/UPI | License Photo

ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 6 (UPI) -- Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told the European Union on Friday that his country would not make changes to its anti-terror laws as part of a deal to curb migration.

"We'll go our way, you go yours," he said in a fiery speech in Istanbul.

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His comments came two days after the European Commission offered visa-free travel for Turks in return for Ankara agreeing to stop refugees from leaving its shores and crossing its borders into the rest of Europe.

Last year, more than a million migrants passed through Turkey on their way to Greece, Italy and beyond.

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"Turkey, when it's under attack from terrorist organizations from all sides, the European Union is telling us to change the anti-terror law in exchange for the visa deal," said Erdogen.

"They say 'I am going to abolish visas and this is the condition.' I'm sorry, we're going our way, you go yours. Agree with whoever you can agree," he said.

To be granted visa-free travel, Turkey must still meet five of 72 criteria the EU imposes on all states exempt from visas, one of which is narrowing its legal definition of terrorism.

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The wide-ranging EU-Turkey deal involves the return of migrants, mainly Syrians, from Greece to Turkey, along with increased aid and other measures.

Rights groups allege that Turkey has used anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent, including detaining journalists and academics critical of the government. But Erdogen's government insists the laws are essential as it battles Kurdish militants at home and the threat from Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

Erdogen's tough stance comes after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who negotiated the migration deal with Europe, announced Thursday he was standing down.

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Davutoglu had been concerned for months about some of Erdogan's policies and his plans to move to a presidential system. Turkey is in the process of overhauling its constitution.

"The place in which Turkey has arrived as a result of its experiences has created an urgent need for both the presidential system and the new constitution," insisted Erdogan.

Among those tipped as successors to Prime Minster Davutoglu are Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, who is close to Erdogan, and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is the president's son-in-law.

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