Greece rejects Turkish minister's comments on Muslim minority


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wears a mask during a visit to the grave of late lawmaker Sadik Ahmet, in Komotini, Greece, May 30, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece reacted angrily on Sunday to a statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that described members of a Muslim minority in northern Greece as Turkish and that said they were not accorded full civic rights.

The statement by Cavusoglu, during a private visit to the northern Greek region of Thrace on Sunday, came ahead of his official meetings on Monday with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens.

The two foreign ministers clashed openly last month at a news conference in Ankara following a meeting aimed at easing months of tension between the two historic rivals.

"We want Greece to give the same rights as we provide to the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek minority to the Turks in Western Thrace," Cavusoglu said according to a video provided by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

A century after the two countries fought a war that displaced more than a million people on both sides of the border, Turkey says the roughly 120,000-strong Muslim community in the region is a Turkish minority, a position rejected by Athens, which describes them as Greek Muslims.

"Turkey's continuous efforts to distort reality, as well as its claims alleging lack of protection of these citizens' rights or discrimination, are unfounded and are rejected in their entirety," Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexandros Papaioannou said in a news release.

The two countries, both members of the NATO alliance, are at odds over issues ranging from competing maritime territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean to the status of Cyprus and the treatment of migrant boats.

They came close to armed conflict last year when naval vessels from each side manoeuvered close to each other in disputed waters during a standoff over energy exploration.

Tensions have eased slightly in recent months and officials resumed exploratory talks over their disputes earlier this year following a five-year hiatus.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Ezgi Erkoyun and Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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