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Hollande arrives in Turkey amid political crisis

French President Francois Hollande (L) waves as he is greeted by his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul during an official welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara on January 27, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN

ANKARA: French President Francois Hollande arrived in Turkey on Monday for a state visit amid a political crisis plaguing the Turkish government and turmoil roiling his private life.

Hollande's two-day visit is the first by a French head of state in 22 years and reflects a thaw in ties that were frosty over France's stance on Turkish accession to the EU and the genocide of Armenians.

It is also his first trip abroad since his dramatic announcement that he had split from his longstanding partner Valerie Trierweiler.

Upon arrival in the capital Ankara, Hollande attended a wreath laying ceremony at the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk before meeting his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

Hollande's goal will be to try to fix damaged political and economic ties with France's NATO ally, bringing with him seven ministers and a 40-strong delegation of business leaders.

"We expect this visit to give a new impetus to French-Turkish relations with the European Union," foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gümrükçü told AFP.

Relations took an icy turn under Hollande's rightwing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who was vehemently opposed to Muslim-majority Turkey joining the European club.

And they hit an all-time low after French lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I constituted genocide.

Although the legislation was later declared invalid by France's constitutional court, it severely damaged business ties.

Hollande, the first president to visit Turkey since Francois Mitterrand in 1992, is on a mission "to put things right", according to his entourage.

The trip comes at a particularly difficult time for Turkey however, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan embroiled in a widening corruption scandal that has implicated members of his inner circle, including ministers and reportedly his own son.

' Turkey must abide by democratic commitments'

Erdogan blames his woes on what he says is a coup plot by supporters of an erstwhile ally, US-exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who hold positions of influence in many parts of the state apparatus including the police and courts.

But his response to the graft probe, a wholesale purge of police and prosecutors and moves to tighten government controls on the judiciary, has provoked deep concerns about the state of democracy in Turkey.

Hollande is expected to follow the line of European leaders who met Erdogan on his visit to Brussels last week aimed at advancing Turkey's EU membership bid.

Paris wants to press home the point that accession talks will not go anywhere unless Ankara upholds its commitments "to the rule of law, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and the respect for basic freedoms," a presidential source said.

Negotiations between Brussels and the country of 76 million people only resumed in November after a three-year freeze.

Hollande has so far deflected questions on his own view towards Turkey, saying the EU has ruled out membership before 2020 -- after his first term in office ends.

On the business front, deals are expected to be signed in various fields including nuclear energy and infrastructure projects.

France's share of the Turkish market halved to three percent between 2009 and 2012 just as Turkey was growing as an emerging economic power, tripling the size of its economy over the 10 years to 2012.

But French companies enjoyed a more successful 2013, sealing deals in Turkey worth 15 billion euros ($20 billion).

Following his talks in Ankara, Hollande will head to Istanbul to attend an economic forum bringing together Turkish and French business leaders.

 

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Summary

French President Francois Hollande arrived in Turkey on Monday for a state visit amid a political crisis plaguing the Turkish government and turmoil roiling his private life.

Hollande's two-day visit is the first by a French head of state in 22 years and reflects a thaw in ties that were frosty over France's stance on Turkish accession to the EU and the genocide of Armenians.

Hollande's goal will be to try to fix damaged political and economic ties with France's NATO ally, bringing with him seven ministers and a 40-strong delegation of business leaders.

'Turkey must abide by democratic commitments'

French companies enjoyed a more successful 2013, sealing deals in Turkey worth 15 billion euros ($20 billion).


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