German leader to press Turkey over Cyprus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was headed for Turkey on Thursday for a two-day visit, during which she is expected to drive home the European Union's demand that Ankara lift its trade embargo against Cyprus.

After arriving in Ankara, Merkel was to pay her respects at the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's founder, and dine with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he broke the Ramadan fast in the evening, officials said.

She intended to raise sensitive issues such as Turkey's refusal to let Cypriot ships and planes use its ports despite Ankara's promise to enact a customs union with the EU, German officials said.

"The EU's membership negotiations with Turkey are being conducted fairly and are open in terms of results," Merkel was quoted as telling Germany's Bild daily. "For us, it is important that Turkey keep to its obligations and fulfill completely the membership criteria."

Merkel has said that resolving the Cyprus dispute is key in Turkey's relations with the EU.

The Turkish embargo casts a pall over Ankara's long-term membership negotiations, begun last year, and the EU's executive commission will issue an evaluation Nov. 8 on the country's progress toward meeting EU conditions.

Cyprus divided since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 after a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece joined the EU in 2004, along with nine other nations.

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the island's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, and backs the breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic in the north of the island, reports AP.

Merkel was likely raise the question of the Greek Orthodox theological seminary on the island of Halki, German officials briefing reporters in Berlin on condition of anonymity said.

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