Turkish president in Moldova for 2-day visit to boost ties

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre right, and Moldova's President Igor Dodon inspect a military honour guard during a welcome ceremony in Kishinev, Moldova, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Erdogan is in Moldova for a two-day state visit.( Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Moldova Wednesday for a two-day visit aimed at boosting political and trade ties with the former Soviet republic.

Erdogan met President Igor Dodon for talks at the presidential building, which was reopened for the occasion. Turkey funded repairs the building required after it was ransacked in 2009 by demonstrators protesting elections they said were rigged by the then-communist government.

The two presidents discussed the conflict in the pro-Russian separatist republic of Trans-Dniester, eastern Moldova, which broke away from Moldova in 1990 over fears it planned to reunite with neighboring Romania.

“Turkey unreservedly supports the territorial integrity of Moldova and calls for a peaceful settlement,” Erdogan said.

In a joint operation last month with the Turkish intelligence service, Moldova expelled seven Turkish teachers alleged to have links to exiled U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of being behind a failed coup attempt in 2016. It is unclear what happened to the teachers after they returned to Turkey.

Erdogan praised the action calling it “normal for friends to help each other when there are problems.”

Dodon, who favors closer relations with Russia, called Turkey “an example for Moldova when it comes to defending national interests.”

Others criticized the visit as it wouldn’t help the country’s aspirations to join the European Union. Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014 and hopes to eventually join the bloc.

“We can’t ignore Erdogan’s … policies, his attitude toward democracy and human rights,” political analyst Nicolae Negru told Radio Chisinau. “The current government wants to borrow Erdogan’s negative aspects, not the positive ones.”

On Thursday, Erdogan will visit the semi-autonomous republic of Gagauzia, home to a Russian-speaking Christian Turkic group.

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Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

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