French President urges respect for rule of law in talks with Turkey’s Erdoğan

French President Emmanuel Macron told Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday that democratic countries had to respect the rule of law in their fight against terrorism as he voiced concerns about the fate of students, teachers and journalists in Turkey.

According to a report by Reuters, Macron said after talks with Erdoğan at the Elysee presidential palace that they had disagreements about how they saw human rights. “Our democracies must be strong standing up to terrorism… But at the same time our democracies must completely protect the rule of law,” Macron said in a joint news conference.

Macron also said that recent developments in Turkey did not allow for any progress in Ankara’s EU accession process. It would be hypocritical to pretend new chapters in the accession talks could be opened, he said.

Macron has also said that he had raised the cases of specific journalists and members of Galatasaray University with Erdoğan, but declined to say which. Galatasaray University was founded after an agreement signed between French and Turkish governments in 1992.

However, Erdoğan defended the crackdown saying that some journalists encouraged terrorism with their writing, comparing them to gardeners nurturing plants. “These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They water … from their columns on newspapers,” Erdoğan said. “And one day, you find, these people show up as a terrorist in front of you.”

Erdoğan also grew visibly upset by a question about Syria asked by a French journalist during the press conference. The Turkish leader was visibly irritated when the French journalist Laurent Richard asked him about a 2015 story by the Cumhuriyet daily about Turkish government sending weapons to the jihadist terror groups in Syria.

Erdoğan said the operation had been conducted by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish-Muslim scholar, and accused the French journalist of speaking like one of them. “When you ask your questions, be careful on this point. And do not speak with the words of another,” Erdoğan arrogantly warned the reporter, by  raising his hand. “And I want you to know, you do not have someone before you who will easily swallow this,” he added.

The French reporter Richard could be heard saying that “I am speaking as a journalist.” Richard later shared a message on his Twitter account and said that “Today I just tried to ask questions Turkish journalists can no longer ask to @RT_Erdogan.”

Meanwhile, protests over press freedom and the deteriorating state of human rights in Turkey greeted Erdoğan as he arrived in Paris on Friday for talks with French President Macron.

The trip is Erdoğan’s first to France since his government strongly cracked down on suspected opponents following a failed coup in July 2016. About 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 others removed from public sector jobs in Turkey.

About 30 activists from watchdog group Reporters without Borders (RSF) held images of jailed journalists outside the Turkish Embassy. A dozen demonstrators, mainly ethnic Kurds, later tried to reach the presidential Elysee Palace, but police pushed them back onto a side street.

The French Communist Party and several left-wing parties have criticized Erdoğan’s visit to France, which came the day before the fifth anniversary of the slayings in Paris of three Kurdish women activists.

“The French judicial system had pointed out Turkish secret services’ involvement in this crime,” the Communist Party said in a statement.

On Turkey’s accession process to the European Union (EU), Macron underlined Turkey’s continued engagement with the Council of Europe (CoE) and European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). However, Macron was careful to avoid making encouraging statements on Turkey’s prospected membership to the EU, saying “a new formulation needs to be created” to re-define Ankara-Brussels ties.

“The accession process has halted,” he said, leaving little room for hopes that it will revive soon as no new negotiation chapter can be opened. However, he hailed EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s efforts to engage with Turkey on all these issues.

For his part, regarding Macron’s words about the EU accession process, Erdoğan said that “This is seriously exhausting us. Maybe this will force us to take a decision.”

“Turkey has been unfortunately made to wait at the door of the EU for the last 54 years. There is no other country like Turkey in the EU and the EU does not give any reason to us (for not accepting Turkey),” Erdoğan added.

Meanwhile, trade deals put their mark on the first official bilateral meeting of the two leaders, with Macron saying he discussed Ankara’s ongoing cooperation with Japan for the construction of Turkey’s second nuclear plant in the Black Sea province of Sinop and potential French participation.

The two leaders also confirmed that Airbus and Turkish Airlines have signed a deal for purchase of 25 jets. “We aim to achieve 20 billion euro trade volume with France. We can achieve it,” Erdoğan said.

The French President stressed “joint problems” that the two countries have been facing, particularly terrorism. “We are struggling against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). We are taking all necessary actions to destroy the financial resources of the PKK in France,” Macron said, vowing that anti-terror cooperation will continue through “fortified cooperation.”

An international anti-terror summit with a special focus on curbing terrorism’s financial resources will be held in France in April 2018 and Turkey will also be present at that summit, he added.

Regional issues like ongoing efforts to find a political settlement to Syrian civil war and the US move to recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel were also discussed by the two presidents, Macron said, noting that he has “observed clearly that we share joint positions on many of these issues.”

French President Macron had said on August 2017 that being a world leader is not as “cool” as it seems and cited having to speak with Erdoğan every 10 days as an example. Macron’s remarks had come during an interview with Le Point magazine, which asked if Macron was aiming to be “cool” on the global stage.

“The global stage is not really a ’cool’ scene, you know. … I am the one who has to talk with Erdoğan every 10 days,” had said Macron.

While Macron did not comment on it any further, an aide later said that Macron was referring to the serious nature of the conversations with Erdoğan. Macron had to phoned Erdoğan again several times to demand the immediate release of French journalist Loup Bureau, who was jailed on August 1 in the southeastern Turkish province of Şırnak on charges of aiding and supporting a terrorist organization. Bureau was later released.

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