Japan and Turkey against bird flu

Japan is open to cooperating with Turkey to combat the spread of bird flu, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday during a visit to this country where 15 people have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. Koizumi said the two countries' health ministers would discuss working together on prevention measures.

"We have exchanged ideas on the issue," Koizumi said during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "This is not an issue that concerns Turkey alone, but the whole world." Two people died from the disease in Turkey over the past week, the first confirmed human bird flu fatalities outside eastern Asia, where 74 people have been killed by H5N1 since 2003, though none of the cases were in Japan.

On Tuesday, Japan's government said up to 77 Japanese, most of them chicken farm workers, may have become infected by H5N2, a less potent strain not previously been known to infect humans. The Turkish Agriculture Ministry said 306,000 fowl, some infected, some not, had been destroyed throughout the country as a precaution to combat the spread of the disease.

Erdogan urged calm, saying "everything is under control." "An idea of panic was created, as though the country was invaded," he said, but assured that measures were being taken. "We have no shortage concerning medicines or vaccine." Koizumi arrived late Monday on a five-day visit to Turkey to discuss peace efforts in the Middle East and possible cooperation in Iraq. He is the first Japanese premier to visit Turkey in 15 years.

Koizumi on Tuesday was noncommittal on when Japan would withdraw its non-combat troops from Iraq. "The issue will be decided after it is closely examined," Koizumi said. "It is not possible to say anything concrete for the time." Japan has deployed some 600 troops in southern Iraq since early 2004 to provide humanitarian support. The Cabinet on Dec. 8 extended the deployment for one year, defying rising domestic opposition to the mission largely over safety concerns.

Speculation has been running high in Japan that Tokyo will pull its non-combat troops out as the British and Australian soldiers protecting them also withdraw. Koizumi said, however, that Turkey and Japan were willing to cooperate in Iraq's reconstruction, especially in building hospitals.

Japan and Turkey enjoyed close relations with both Israelis and Palestinians, Koizumi said, adding that both countries would cooperate to promote Middle East peace. Koizumi had been scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories this week, but postponed that part of the trip due to Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's illness, reports the AP. N.U.

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