UPDATES WITH MORE QUOTES FROM TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU
By Merve Aydogan
ANKARA (AA) - Türkiye on Thursday criticized Belgium over remarks against the country's counter-terrorism efforts in northern Syria, noting that the fight against terror must be pursued without "buts or ifs" and urging it to take action against PKK terror groups.
"You are making a solidarity statement with Türkiye (against terror attacks) but against our counter-terror efforts," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a joint press conference with his Belgian counterpart Hadja Lahbib.
Emphasizing that Türkiye "never targets civilians or civilian infrastructure" in its anti-terror operations across the border, Cavusoglu said his country directly targets terrorists.
Cavusoglu's remarks came after his counterpart expressed "concerns" about a possible ground operation by Türkiye against terror targets in Iraq and Syria.
"I wish Iraq could've carried out efforts to eliminate PKK terrorists, as it did with Daesh, and wipe out these (terrorists) from its country," he said.
He also pointed to the US and Russia's pledges in 2019 about clearing terrorists in Syria, and said he wished they had "fulfilled their promises," too.
Cavusoglu stressed that it would be "unacceptable" for Türkiye to remain idle in the face of terror attacks and noted that solidarity and messages of condemnation were not enough.
Underlining that Türkiye was one of the most sensitive countries in terms of preserving civilians and civilian infrastructures, Cavusoglu also voiced opposition to statements against carrying out air or ground operations.
The Turkish minister further emphasized the need to fight terrorism without relent and conveyed Ankara's expectations from Belgium on the matter.
"We expect you (Belgium) to take measures and fight against PKK organizations that are currently very active in Belgium and carry out terrorist activities throughout Europe," he added.
He further said terrorist organizations PKK, DHKP-C and FETO affiliated entities are present in Belgium, and stressed that "terrorist organizations should be prevented from using Belgium as their headquarters. We need to be in solidarity in the fight against terrorism."
In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the US, and EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.
- Rising Islamophobia
Drawing attention to the increase of racism and Islamophobia in Europe, Cavusoglu told his Belgian counterpart Hadja Lahbib that Turkish diaspora "in Belgium are also affected by the increasing racism and Islamophobia in Europe."
"We expect the Belgian administration to take serious steps and measures against the attacks against both mosques and our citizens," he said.
Stating that he finds the warnings of Lahbib "strange" about the upcoming general elections in Türkiye next year, Cavusoglu said: "Elections in Türkiye are always democratic and transparent."
He stressed credible international institutions such as the OSCE are always monitoring the elections in Türkiye, as they do in other countries, and said: "Governments in Türkiye come to power by the vote of the people, by the choice of the people. Change happens by popular vote."
Recalling that there were coup attempts against Türkiye previously, Cavusoglu stressed his country has always stood strong against anti-democratic movements.
On bilateral ties, Türkiye and Belgium have gained a significant momentum in bilateral relations, according to Cavusoglu, who added that regular contacts between Ankara and Brussels continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cavusoglu noted that Türkiye attaches importance to mutual visits and expressed the desire to hold the trilateral mechanism meeting of the foreign, interior and justice ministers of the two countries in 2023, which was previously held in Ankara in 2016.
He stressed economy and trade are an important pillar of the relations between the two countries, and added that the trade volume between Türkiye and Belgium increased by 43% and reached $10.5 billion.