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‘No concessions’ to Turkey on rights in refugee deal: Hollande

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 12, 2016. © AFP

French President Francois Hollande says his government will offer “no concessions” to Turkey on human rights or visas in exchange for guarantees to tackle the massive influx of refugees into Europe.

“There cannot be any concessions on the matter of human rights or the criteria for visa liberalization,” Hollande said on Saturday after a meeting in the French capital, Paris, with more than a dozen social democrat leaders from the European Union (EU).

The French president also called for more “clarification and transparency” in the EU discussions with Turkey about a complex deal to ease the refugee crisis.

On March 7, the Turkish government proposed to take back all those refugees who cross into Europe from its soil in return for more money, faster EU membership talks and quicker visa-free travel. European Union leaders also welcomed the initiative.

Critics have, however, accused Turkey of blackmailing Europe into letting it join the EU.

The deal has already triggered concerns among rights advocates while governments and international organizations have also blasted it as inhumane.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein on March 10 criticized the draft deal, saying the agreement may lead to “illegal” expulsion of people seeking asylum in Europe.

The UN refugee agency has also slammed the agreement as a violation of refugees’ right to protection under international law.

EU leaders are expected to finalize the refugee deal with Ankara during a summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 17-18.

Turkey is the main launching point for refugees making the dangerous crossing into Europe, which is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

Hollande’s comments come amid fears over freedom of expression as well as rights abuses in Turkey.

Earlier on March 4, Turkish police forces stormed the mainstream opposition newspaper Zaman’s office to enforce a court ruling to place it and its subsidiary outlets under the management of trustees.

A woman cries as Turkish police officers disperse supporters in front of the headquarters of the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman in Istanbul on March 5, 2016, after authorities seized the headquarters in a midnight raid. © AFP

The opposition newspaper switched to a pro-government line after the seizure, placing on the front page of its last Sunday edition a picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holding the hand of an elderly woman.

The paper’s takeover triggered massive nationwide protests, which police violently quashed with water cannons and tear gas.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and the European Union have condemned the Turkish government takeover of Zaman, calling on Ankara to respect media freedom.

Nearly 2,000 journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens, including teenagers, have been accused of insulting Erdogan. He has faced growing popular dissatisfaction over what critics say is his autocratic behavior and regarding criticism as insult.

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