Athens and Ankara exchange accusations

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The Independent Online
A DAY is no longer enough, apparently, to commemorate the Turkish conquest of Constantinople from the Byzantine Greeks. Janissaries in colourful costumes and long floppy felt hats have been busy re-staging the 29 May 1453 storming of the Theodycian walls as part of a whole seven-day bonanza of celebrations.

'Conquest Week' may have stirred somewhat less interest among Turks than Britons feel for D-Day memorabilia. But the anniversary catches an up-and- coming nationalist-religious spirit in Turkey that is fanning the flames of the centuries-old feud between Turks and Greeks.

The two unlikely Nato allies most recently went to the verge of armed conflict over territorial rights in the Aegean Sea in 1987 and are once again at loggerheads over the Balkans, the cause of two of their three wars this century.

The Turkish Ministry of Information yesterday even found grist for its mill in relaying anti-Greek statements by Albania.

In such an atmosphere, much is being made of confessions wrung out of two Kurdish militants arrested early in May on charges of involvement with recent bombings of tourist spots in Istanbul. Turkey says they claimed to be members of a 20-person team infiltrated from Germany into Turkey through Athens airport.

'A Greek lady showed up and took them 200km from Athens towards the Turkish border. There they were trained on ways of making bombs, explosives for about a month,' said a senior Turkish official familiar with the Kurds' statements.

The official said another Greek took some of the men to the Greek-Turkish border, where they were smuggled over the Meritsa river in rubber boats. From there the children of Turkish Kurd guest-workers in Germany and the Netherlands spread out to Istanbul, Ankara and the Mediterranean tourist port of Antalya.

'We never accuse the Greeks as a government. But there's lots of circumstantial evidence indicating Greek involvement in the PKK,' said the official, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party, the Marxist rebels who have fought for ethnic Kurdish autonomy since 1984.

Greece denies any responsibility for the PKK's activities, and added its own complaints after three bombs were thrown at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul by an underground group called the Islamic Raiders of the Great East.

'The Turkish provocations and efforts to create tension are continuing,' a Greek government spokesman, Evangelos Venizelos, said, dismissing claims about the training of PKK members as 'absurd'.