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Turkey offers olive branch to end Aegean clash with Greece



Turkey's new centre-right government yesterday offered a to make a fresh start in relations with Greece with talks on all aspects of the two rivals' disputes in the Aegean Sea.

With an eye on Greece's threat to veto European financial aid, the Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, offered dialogue without preconditions.

"Turkey and Greece must overcome their hostility ... this vicious circle must be broken," Mr Yilmaz said, in the Turkish capital, Ankara. "Our goal is to end all problems with Greece."

Turkey and Greece almost went to war in January over a pair of barren, rocky outcrops in the Aegean Sea known as Kardak to the Turks and Imia to the Greeks. The American trouble-shooter Richard Holbrooke talked the two Nato allies into standing down, but warships from both countries still prowl the area.

Turkish-Greek distrust was highlighted last week when a dispute arose over who should feed the goats on the islets. The two sides reportedly agreed to take it in turns to ship in fodder.

"We can't take the issue of the Kardak rocks on their own. It's the result of many problems piled up over the years," Mr Yilmaz said.

Turks and Greeks have been uneasy and often warring neighbours for nearly a millennium. Points of friction include the divided island of Cyprus, minorities in each other's countries and the relationship between the European Union and fast-developing Turkey.

As an EU member, Greece has been able to use its domestic concerns to block most of the European financial aid promised to Turkey since the military intervention of 1980-83.

Athens only allowed a customs union agreement with Turkey to go ahead on 1 January in return for a promise from Brussels to start accession talks with Cyprus.

The timing of Mr Yilmaz's comments was prompted by a Greek threat to veto promised aid worth pounds 320m at a meeting of the Turkish- EU Association Council tomorrow.