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Saturday, May 15, 2010
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Greece, Turkey hail 'big step forward' after Athens talks

Rivals Greece and Turkey made a "big step forward" in relations during a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a joint statement said after talks in Athens yesterday.

"A big step forward has been made to promote relations and lead to the strengthening of peace and stability in the region," a statement by the Greek and Turkish governments said after Athens and Ankara agreed to set up a council of cooperation to overcome their differences.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who had headed a first rapprochement as foreign minister a decade ago, said the two countries shared a "vision" to live in peace and friendship.

"I am confident that the novel and courageous step we are attempting today can pay off because the will is there," he told a news conference held with Erdogan, who began Friday a landmark visit to Athens, his first since 2004.

Papandreou said the two sides had agreed to establish additional confidence-building measures and would "step up" efforts to resolve a continental shelf dispute in the Aegean Sea.

Under the Greek-Turkish high cooperation council established on Friday, the Greek and Turkish leaders will meet once every year and ministers will confer twice annually, he added.

Erdogan brought with him ten government ministers who signed some two dozen accords and declarations with their Greek counterparts on sectors including finance, immigration, energy, tourism, culture and education.

Deals signed include an accord allowing illegal migrants coming from Turkey to Greece to be sent back, an issue that has been a major source of discord between the arch-rivals.

Regional rivals for centuries despite being members of NATO for the past five decades, Greece and Turkey markedly improved relations in 1999 after destructive earthquakes struck both countries within weeks of each other.

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