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Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 18:19 UK

Turkish leader Erdogan makes 'historic' Greek visit

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou (l) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r) in Athens, 14 May 2010
It is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's first visit to Greece since 2004

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a rare trip to Greece, where he co-chaired the first joint cabinet meeting between the two states.

Greece and Turkey were signing a series of agreements on areas including the economy and migration.

Mr Erdogan, on his first visit for six years, travelled with a delegation of 10 ministers and about 100 businessmen.

Ties between Greece and Turkey have long been strained and have sometimes veered towards open hostility.

The two countries remain at odds over territorial rights and oil in the Aegean Sea, and how to end the division of Cyprus - divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the north of the island in response to a military coup backed by Athens.

'New era'

Mr Erdogan co-chaired the cabinet meeting with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou. The two countries hope to repeat the joint meeting each year.

I honestly feel national shame each time I am forced to buy weapons we do not need
Theodore Pangalos
Greek deputy prime minister

"I am optimistic that the groundbreaking and courageous step we are taking today can bring results, exactly because the will exists," said Mr Papandreou.

Mr Erdogan said the visit was "historic" and had "special importance". Ahead of the trip, he had predicted that it would herald a "new era" between the two countries.

The BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Istanbul that Turkey is hoping to achieve in Greece what it has already managed with its other once-estranged neighbours, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia - that is, to put aside differences and focus on areas of mutual benefit, in particular trade.

Given the state of the Greek economy, he says such opportunities may be scarce right now, but Turkish officials stress that this is also a show of solidarity with Greece.

Trade between the two states is worth more than $3bn (2.4bn euros, £2.1bn) annually.

Turkey also wants Greece to push the government of Cyprus for an early settlement on the divided island.

But Greece has been reluctant to do this, our correspondent says, and some problems will not easily succumb to diplomatic innovations.

Migration pact

Talks on Friday covered the possibility of reducing strategic tensions and cutting defence spending.

Greece, which is in economic turmoil and struggling to reduce its ballooning national debt, spends more on defence as a proportion of gross domestic product than any other EU country.

"I honestly feel national shame each time I am forced to buy weapons we do not need," said Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodore Pangalos.

"I know that on the other side of the border too the Turks are also buying weapons they do not need... due to an imaginary threat that arises from a political confrontation, which can be solved and must be solved."

On migration, the two sides signed an agreement that allows Greece to send back migrants who illegally enter Greece from Turkey, AFP news agency reported.

Turkey agreed to accept at least 1,000 readmission requests each year and to establish a readmission point at or near the port of Izmir, the report said.

The border between Turkey and Greece is a major point of entry for migrants from developing countries seeking to reach the EU.



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