Turkish president in Britain to seek support for EU bid

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Turkish President Abdullah Gul headed to Britain on Sunday for a three-day state visit aimed at seeking support from the Turkey's ally in its bid to join the EU.

"I will underline the importance of England's continued support in making sure negotiations are not blocked by artifical political obstacles," Gul told journalists in Turkey before flying off to London.

Ankara opened membership negotiations with the EU in 2005 but progress has been slow, in part due to opposition from Germany and France.

Gul said in comments published in Britain's Sunday Telegraph that his country is still keen to join the bloc even as the eurozone crisis spreads.

One of the key sticking points to entry is Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.

Ankara refuses to recognise the internationally recognised Greek-Cypriot government and UN-sponsored talks aimed at reunifying the eastern Mediterranean island have so far been in vain.

Greek-Cypriot aeroplanes and boats arriving at Turkish entry points are routinely blocked, despite agreements with the EU to allow them access.

Turkey has threatened to freeze diplomatic relations with the EU when Cyprus takes on the rotating EU presidency for six months in July 2012 if there is no reunification deal.

"I am going to ask England, which is part of the Cypriot question as a guarantor country, to use all its weight to push for a solution," said Gul.

During his visit, Gul will meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, as well as several members of the royal family.

It is the first state visit to Britain by a Turkish president for 23 years. nc/vjf/txw

© 2011 AFP

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