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Turkey wants to attend EU summits, liberal visa regime

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(ISTANBUL) - Turkey's chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagis asked Thursday for his country's participation in European Union summits and liberalization of the Union's visa regime for Turkish citizens.

"Turkey, like other candidates (to EU) should be invited to EU summits, then we can share our observations, our expectations, our aspirations for the world," Bagis told to AFP.

Emphasizing that Turkey has special relations with several countries in the Middle East, a region plagued by deep political turmoil, Bagis said "At least Europe can take advantage of Turkey's potential."

"Turkey is the country with the highest influence in this part of the world and I think it would be a shame that candidate countries are not invited to EU summits since Bulgaria and Romania joined" the EU in January 1, 2007, he said.

In an interview with the AFP on the eve of a visit by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a firm opponent to Turkey's accession to EU, Bagis also called for rapid liberalization of the union's visa policy to Turkish citizens.

"Citizens of Belize, Uruguay and Paraguay, with all due respect to them, can travel to the Schengen zone... without a visa, but my citizens have to wait in a line to get a visa in front of consulates and embassies. It is not correct, its ridiculous," he said.

The minister said an important readmission agreement to tackle the illegal flow of migrants to Europe had been finalized, but it remained contingent on European Commission's securing a mandate to liberalize the visa regime.

"Once the commission has that mandate we will sign the readmission agreement and then we anticipate visa facilitations and by the time that we complete negotiatons we would expect visa liberalisation," he said.

Under the readmission agreement, Turkey will readmit illegal migrants who are arrested in Europe after using Turkey as a transition country to enter Europe.

Out of the 35 policy chapters that candidates must negotiate, Turkey has opened talks on only 13 since the negotiations began in 2005.

Eight chapters remain frozen as a sanction for Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels under a trade pact with the EU, with France and Cyprus blocking several others.

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