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Merkel offers Turkey resumption of EU membership talks in return for stemming refugee flow

La chancelière allemande Angela Merkel et le Premier ministre turc Ahmet Davutoglu, à Istanbul le 18 octobre 2015
BULENT KILIC (AFP)
Some 3,000 migrants enter Slovenia after Hungary closes border; Slovenia deploys soldiers to manage influx

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday hailed a better understanding between Ankara and the European Union in dealing with the refugee crisis, as thousands more migrants poured into Slovenia headed for western Europe.

AFP/File​Merkel held talks in Istanbul with Davutoglu and was meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a critical one-day visit which came as Germany was shaken by a bloody knife attack on a pro-refugee politician.

The European Union wants Turkey to do more to tighten its border security and help contain the historic influx of people from Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones seeking shelter in the 28-nation bloc.

In return, Ankara wants greater recognition for its role in hosting over two million Syrian refugees, an increase in financial help and an acceleration of its long-stalled bid for EU membership.

After the talks, Davutoglu praised a "better approach" from the European Union lamenting that "unfortunately Turkey was left alone by the international community in terms of burden sharing."

"We are very pleased there is a better approach now. The issue of sharing going forwards is very important," said Davutoglu.

Germany has been Europe's top destination for refugees, most of whom travel through Turkey and the Balkans, and is expecting to register up to a million asylum requests this year.

Davutoglu hailed Merkel for "not turning a blind eye" to the refugee crisis.

Dimitar Dilkoff (AFP)"Many others said refugees should be sent back (from the EU). She displayed a humanitarian position," he added.

'Engage ourselves more'

Merkel said that the fact Turkey had accomplished the immense task of looking after over two million Syrian refugees on relatively little funding had led to a "migration pressure" which resulted in the influx of migrants into Europe.

"Turkey had little international help until now for the huge contribution it has made," said Merkel.

She said it was in the interests of neither side that this resulted in illegal migration into the EU.

"This cannot be the aim. We will engage ourselves more strongly financially as the European Union. Germany will play its part," she promised.

Erdogan had last week heaped scorn on Europe's efforts to deal with the crisis and urged Brussels to take Ankara's EU membership bid more seriously.

But Merkel said that talks on a final plan by Turkey and the EU to deal with the refugee crisis were progressing. "We are still speaking over the details," she said.

BULENT KILIC (AFP)More than 630,000 people fleeing war and misery have landed on Europe's shores this year, many making risky sea crossings from Turkey to Greece.

Another 12 people drowned off the Turkish coast on Saturday, and on Sunday the Greek coastguard said five migrants including a baby and two boys had died trying to cross the Aegean Sea.

While many Germans have welcomed the refugees, there has also been a backlash. Support for Merkel's conservatives dipped another point to 37 percent, a new poll said Sunday, while the long-dormant anti-Islamic PEGIDA protest movement has again drawn thousands of followers.

Simmering tensions ended in violence in the western city of Cologne on Saturday when a man with a knife attacked the independent mayoral hopeful Henriette Reker, 58, who is active in helping refugees, leaving her with serious neck wounds and injuring four others.

The attacker, a 44-year-old unemployed man arrested at the scene, had "a racist motivation" according to police, and was said to have been close to the extreme right in the 1990s.

Influx into Slovenia

As the influx continued, Hungary closed its border with Croatia, forcing the migrants to find a new route to northern Europe through Slovenia and into Austria.

Federico Scoppa (AFP)Croatia on Saturday began ferrying migrants by bus and train to its northern border with Slovenia, with 3,000 crossing the frontier. Hundreds more were arriving in Slovenia on Sunday aboard a special train from Croatia.

Slovenia has said it would draft in the army to help police cope with the additional numbers.

Another 1,000 people crossed from Slovenia into Austria on Saturday and through the night, police said, with most headed for Germany, where debate continued over how to slow the influx.

Police union chief Rainer Wendt told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper Germany should build a fence along its border with Austria.

"If we close our borders this way, Austria will also close its border with Slovenia, and that's exactly the effect we need," he said.

Davutoglu also warned that new fighting around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo risks creating "significant new waves of migration".

He said that "some Iranian militia" and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah had been putting pressure on Aleppo, leading to greater fighting coupled with the air strikes by Russia which Turkey has vehemently opposed.

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