Erdogan, EU escalate angry rhetoric over refugees, EU membership

By Eric DuVall  |  Updated Nov. 26, 2016 at 6:31 PM
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ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan escalated a brewing war of words with the European Union on Saturday amid fresh warnings from a leading European official not to renege on a deal to house more than 3 million Syrian immigrants.

The two sides have clashed of late over the fate of negotiations for Turkey to enter the European Union. In the months since a coup attempt in July failed to topple Erdogan, the conservative Muslim leader has moved to crack down on perceived military and civilian government workers loyal to the coup's alleged leader Fetullah Gulen.

After arresting thousands of alleged conspirators in the military and the government in the coup's aftermath, European leaders warned the authoritarian tactics could cost Turkey its bid for EU membership, a potential major economic windfall. On Thursday, the EU Parliament voted to freeze accession talks, though the vote was mostly symbolic and major EU nations such as Germany and France favor continuing the process.

On Friday, Erdogan threatened to throw open the Turkish border with Bulgaria -- and thus the rest of Europe -- to the 3 million-plus Syrian refugees being housed in camps in Turkey if the EU halted the accession process. On Saturday, Erdogan unleashed another angry tirade on television, suggesting his government could extend a state of emergency that has been in place since the coup failed.

"Maybe the state of emergency will be extended by three months and then maybe another three months," he said, according to Al Jazeera. "This is a decision for the government and the [Turkish] parliament."

"What's it to you?" he said, addressing the European Parliament. "Know your place."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered a mixed response, telling Euronews on Friday that EU member-states should "refrain from giving lessons" to Turkey on the refugee crisis because the Turks are bearing a much more significant part of the burden than Europe.

"Turkey does much more than Europe, as do Jordan and Lebanon. So, we need to be humble when we speak on those issues," Juncker said.

However, Juncker also cautioned in a Belgian newspaper Saturday that Turkey must abide by the terms of the migrant deal with Europe and stop the authoritarian treatment of its citizens, or own the potential consequence -- including failure to gain EU membership.

"We made an agreement, it must be respected and it will be," Juncker said. "I believe that Erdogan and his government are in the process of 'pre-blaming' Europe for the failure of its accession negotiations."

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