In spite of the plea of EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to released the 2 Greek military officers before Greek Easter, they remain imprisoned in a jail on the outskirts of Edirne. On Holy Friday they received a visit from their family members.
It was their fifth meeting behind bars after the two soldiers were arrested for accidentally crossing the border in bad weather on March 1.
Earlier Friday, their parents met with officials and lawyers at the Greek consulate to be briefed on latest developments regarding the case.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the weekly Documento newspaper, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for the immediate release of the soldiers.
“Angelos and Dimitris, all Greeks demand an end to your ordeal,” Tsipras was quoted as saying, using the word “Golgotha,” or Calvary, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and the tomb where he was buried and resurrected.
In a telephone conversation with the parents of the two soldiers, alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis vowed that the government will make every effort to accelerate their release.
In a tweet on Friday, New Democracy’s shadow defense minister Vassilis Kikilias wished courage and strength to the soldiers as well as their families.
According to “Kathimerini”, with concerns growing in the government that the tough language used by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos about Turkey could hamper negotiations for the release of two Greek soldiers held in the neighboring country, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is reportedly planning a meeting with the leader of the junior coalition partner after Easter to ask him to tone down the rhetoric.
The government also sought Thursday to clarify that Kammenos’s remarks referring to the imminent transfer of 7,000 troops to the Evros border region and the Aegean islands is not related to the recent spike in tension, but more to do with new organization of Greece’s armed forces, saying that, in any case, this will not take place in the immediate future.
According to a senior government official, the incendiary rhetoric “is not needed” at a time when the government is trying to de-escalate tension between the countries.
Earlier in the week a series of acrimonious exchanges between Athens and Ankara was capped with Kammenos saying that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone “completely mad.”
The government’s concern over the stance of Kammenos, who is also the leader of the nationalist Independent Greeks party, was also shared by senior officials of ruling SYRIZA, as well as opposition parties, who say that he is causing unnecessary tension and is only playing into Ankara’s hands.
New Democracy said Kammenos’s tough talk is only “adding fuel to the fire.”
Speaking to Skai TV, SYRIZA lawmaker Dimitris Sevastakis warned that Greece should not allow itself to get caught in the “trap” of heightened tensions set by Erdogan.
For his part, SYRIZA MEP Stelios Kouloglou told the Parapolitika radio station that “Kammenos is serving the interests of his audience” and insisted that Athens must remain decisive and calm as hints of an imminent military conflict with Turkey will impact tourism.
Meanwhile, referring to Kammenos’s talk of sending troops to the Evros border and the islands, Turkish Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik said Thursday that his statements were “foolhardy.”
According to Turkey’s Hurriyet daily, Celik added that the EU should reprimand Greece over some of the comments emanating from its political leadership.
Greek and Turkish fighter jets engaged in two dogfights over the Aegean yesterday after the Turkish jets violated Greek airspace 16 times.
Gov’t, ND clash
over FYROM issue
The government and the main conservative opposition New Democracy party clashed Thursday over the progress of United Nations-mediated talks aimed at breaking a deadlock between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the latter’s name.
The Foreign Ministry called on ND to “finally display a serious and responsible stance when it comes to dealing with issues of major national importance.”
Critical statements by ND about the government’s handling the issue “do not reflect the true state of affairs” and are “clearly aimed at serving party interests,” the ministry said.
It was responding to comments by ND’s shadow foreign minister, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, who claimed that a briefing on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias only served to “intensify our concerns.”
According to the ministry, Koumoutsakos “did not express any reservations or concerns during the briefing, which lasted for more than two hours, and only made constructive comments.”
Kotzias briefed party leaders on his talks last week in Vienna with his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov. He saw Koumoutsakos instead of ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who boycotted the meeting, objecting to a split within the ruling coalition over how to handle the name talks.
Kotzias is to meet again with Dimitrov for further negotiations next week. Despite progress in the talks, differences remain.
Athens wants the name solution to be “erga omnes,” namely for general use at home and abroad. It also wants changes to parts of FYROM’s constitution deemed irredentist.