ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday urged Turkey to sustain its democracy and abide by human rights standards during her meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that also drew promises of closer defense cooperation between the two NATO allies.
The visit aimed to boost trade between Turkey and Britain once the U.K. leaves the European Union, and focused on increasing cooperation over security and counterterrorism.
May flew overnight to Ankara by RAF Voyager jet from the U.S., where she and U.S. President Donald Trump proclaimed a new chapter in the trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”
The visit to Turkey, an important but complicated NATO ally, came amid pressure at home to condemn Turkey’s clampdown on civil liberties since the government crushed a coup attempt in July.
“I am proud that the U.K. stood with you on the 15th of July last year in defense of democracy,” May said, as she and Erdogan delivered brief statements to the media following their talks.
“And now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations — as the government has undertaken to do,” she said.
Turkey has detained tens of thousands of people suspected of links to a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating the failed attempt. More than 100,000 others have been dismissed from government jobs.
The crackdown extended to other government opponents. More than a hundred journalists and pro-Kurdish party leaders are in jail.
May, who was paying her first visit to Turkey since becoming prime minister, arrived for talks with Erdogan to find her own image dominating television screens in the presidential palace, which were showing images of her visit to the White House on Friday.
May laughed when the president said her trip to Washington “was well-covered in Turkey.”
Earlier, May laid a wreath in the red and white colors of the Turkish flag at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, before meeting Erdogan at the vast presidential palace.
She said Britain and Turkey should “renew our efforts to fulfil Ataturk’s vision of peace at home and peace in the world.”
Turkey has suffered multiple deadly attacks in the past two years, carried out by the Islamic State group or by Kurdish militants, including a IS raid on a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations that killed 39 people.
Kate Allen, head of Amnesty U.K., said the visit was a “vital opportunity” for May to ask “probing questions” about allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment in detention.
May and Erdogan also discussed the conflict in Syria and efforts to reunite Cyprus.
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