British pomp on show as Turkey's Gul starts state visit

22nd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Turkish President Abdullah Gul was welcomed to Britain by Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday at the start of a three-day state visit aimed at forging closer links with Turkey's emerging economy.

The two heads of state shook hands warmly as the hosts laid on the traditional pomp in a central London ceremony, with a 41-gun royal salute fired and Gul inspecting lines of Coldstream Guards in their grey greatcoats.

Britain hopes the visit will forge stronger ties with Turkey, a growing economic power and an increasingly important trade partner straddling Europe and the Middle East.

Gul's visit will see him attend a state banquet and meet political leaders, while on Wednesday he will deliver a foreign policy speech about the Arab Spring which is expected to touch on Turkey's strained relations with Syria.

He will also tour the Olympic Park in east London and visit parliament.

The queen and the president made their way to Buckingham Palace in horse-drawn carriages, joined by a mounted cavalry escort.

After lunch at the palace, Gul visited Prime Minister David Cameron for talks at his Downing Street office.

On arrival, Gul bounded up to greet Cameron on the steps. The president then took off his winter coat before the pair posed for pictures in front of the famous black door of number 10.

Their talks were likely to include Turkey's influence on its neighbours.

Ankara has taken a hard line on Syria amid the regime's crackdown on protesters, while Iran is at loggerheads with much of the international community over its nuclear ambitions.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to step down, branding him a coward and warning that he risked the same fate of dictators who met bloody deaths.

Gul said Monday that Assad has reached a "dead end" but only internal forces could bring about change.

His talks with Cameron were also expected to include Britain's strong support for Turkey's European Union membership bid, which is opposed by EU heavyweights Germany.

"Those who can think 30 years, 60 years ahead, and who can think about the changing trends in the economy and the changing centres of power, can understand how much strength Turkey can bring to the existing strength of Europe," Gul told The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

The president said that Turkey, with its resources and size, could be the "engine" of growth in the EU.

The last state visit to Britain by a Turkish president was made by Kenan Evren in July 1988.

Queen Elizabeth paid a state visit to Turkey in May 2008, less than six months after Prince Charles, her eldest son and the heir to the throne, toured the republic.

After lunch, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip showed Gul and his wife around an exhibition of artefacts from the Royal Collection illustrating Britain's relationship with Turkey.

They included the white table linen given to the monarch by Turkey to celebrate her marriage in 1947.

"That was our wedding present," she told Gul.

© 2011 AFP

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