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Eyeing EU visa talks, Turkey to ink deal on migrants

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(BRUSSELS) - Turkey said Wednesday it will sign a long-awaited deal with the EU to repatriate those who enter the bloc illegally from its territory, in exchange for talks on visa-free travel for its citizens.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists in Brussels the readmission accord would be signed on December 16.

The deal had stalled in 2012, with Turkey refusing to sign as the EU would not commit to starting negotiations on the visa-free travel regime applied to other candidate countries.

"Today is an historic day," Davutoglu said during a press conference with the 28-nation bloc's home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and enlargement chief Stefan Fuele.

"We will launch the process of visa liberalisation and sign the (readmission) agreement on December 16 ... This has been Turkey's objective for many years," he added.

He said the procedure should see the lifting of visa restrictions in three and a half years at the most.

Malmstrom said the signing of the readmission agreement and opening of talks on a visa deal "demonstrates our willingness to work together."

The EU wants Turkey, a crossroads between Europe and Asia, to take back thousands of illegal migrants who have crossed its borders into Greece, the EU's eastern frontier.

The country of 76 million resumed talks to gain entry into the EU in November after a 40-month freeze.

Turkey's efforts to join the EU formally started in 2005 but stalled due to several stumbling blocks including its human rights record, its large Muslim population, a territorial dispute with Cyprus and opposition from major powers France and Germany.

However, democratic reforms and Turkey's key role as neighbour to Syria in global efforts to avoid crisis in the Middle East have helped move forward Ankara's drawn-out campaign to prise open the EU door.

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