EU chiefs raise serious human rights concerns with Turkey’s Erdogan

Ankara urged to reverse withdrawal from treaty designed to stop violence against women

epa09118484 A handout photo made available by Turkish President Press Office shows, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), EU Council President Charles Michel (L) and President of EU Commission Ursula Von der Leyen (R) pose before their meeting at the Presidential Place in Ankara, Turkey, 06 April 2021.  EPA/PRESIDENTAL PRESS OFFICE HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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EU chiefs pressed Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on human rights breaches in his country, during nearly three hours of talks in Ankara on Tuesday, as the two sides consider a closer relationship.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “deeply worried” about Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty designed to prevent violence against women.

"This is about protecting women and protecting children against violence and this is clearly the wrong signal right now," she said.

“We certainly did not convince, but we urged Turkey to reverse its decision,” Ms von der Leyen said.

She was joined in the meeting by European Council President Charles Michel.

Ms von der Leyen said it was crucial that Turkey respected the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that jailed Turkish politician Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala be released.

“Human rights issues are non-negotiable. They have an absolute priority without any question. We were very clear on that, that this is our position,” she said.

Turkey has also sought to shut down a major opposition party in recent weeks.

"The rule of law and respect of fundamental rights are core values of the European Union and we shared with President Erdogan our deep worries on the latest developments with Turkey in this respect," said Mr Michel.

The visit by the two top officials comes amid an easing of tensions with Turkey.

These surged last year amid a dispute over maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and EU member states Cyprus and Greece.

The EU was also angered when Mr Erdogan questioned the mental health of France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

After Turkey withdrew vessels in the disputed Mediterranean waters and restarted negotiations with Greece, Mr Michel and Ms von der Leyen welcomed the positive steps and have talked up the possibility of deeper ties if the de-escalation is sustained.

The EU chiefs, who last held in-person talks with Mr Erdogan a year ago, said they discussed a number of forms of co-operation with Turkey, including a closer trading partnership.

Ankara wants greater EU support for millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey and the loosening of visa rules for Turkish travellers.

“This is the beginning of a process. We’re at the beginning of a road together,” said Ms von der Leyen.

Mr Michel called on Turkey to “seize this opportunity” and said any progress would be discussed at the next European Council in June.

"Turkey shows interest in re-engaging with the European Union in a constructive way. And we have come to Turkey to give the relationship a new momentum," Ms von der Leyen said.