Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened the European Union with “buses full of refugees” if they failed to finalize a lucrative deal with Turkey over the refugee crisis, according to a leaked transcript of a meeting between Erdogan and EU chiefs last year in which European leaders admit to aiding Erdogan's party secure victory in elections.
As Turkey rejected a plan by the EU Wednesday for the bloc to take in thousands of refugees from Turkey in return for Ankara shutting its borders with Greece, the leaked documents reveal that Turkey threatened the EU with floods of refugees earlier last year.
“We (Turkey) can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria any time, and we can put the refugees on buses,” Erdogan was quoted as saying in the transcript published by the Greek-based Euro2dayonline news website this week.
The meeting took place on Nov. 29 in the Turkish city of Antalya and included Erdogan, his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, President of the European Council Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker.
The officials were negotiating over an action plan between Ankara and Brussels that would see Turkey help prevent refugees from entering Greek territory in return for 3 billion euros (US$3.4 billion) a year in aid to the Turkish government, finalizing a visa-free agreement for Turks entering the EU as well as speeding up Turkey’s EU accession process.
Erdogan's threat of allowing floods of refugees into the EU came as he pushed for the EU to pay 6 billion euros (US$6.8 billion) instead of 3 billion euros. The action plan between Turkey and the EU was in fact signed following that meeting.
The leaked documents revealed that Tusk told Erdogan the EU “really wants a deal” with Turkey, to which Erdogan replied: “So how will you deal with the refugees if there is no deal? Kill the refugees?”
The meeting also came less than three weeks after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was founded by Erdogan in 2001, won a strong majority in snap parliamentary elections.
Crucially, the leaked documents reveal an admission by European leaders that they delayed the release of a critical human rights report on Turkey until after the elections so as to not hurt Erdogan and the AKP’s chances in the November elections.
“Please note that we postponed the progress report until after the elections and we got criticized for this delay,” EC head Juncker told Erdogan after the Turkish leader brought up the report. The EU leader added that the delay came as a result of a request from Erdogan, who dismissed the report as an “insult.”
The report was due to be released in October but was delayed until after the elections in order not to interfere in the domestic affairs of Turkey, the report indicates.
The report was critical of Ankara’s operations in the mainly Kurdish southeast areas as it fights the Kurdish guerrilla group PKK. Since the beginning of the ground operation in the Kurdish regions, hundreds of civilians have been killed and many cities have been severely damaged.
The report also criticized the ruling party for backtracking on the rule of law, media freedom and judicial independence.
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