As Tsipras visits, Turkey sets bounty for officers who fled

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the MPs of his ruling Justice and Development Party at the parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is paying a two-day visit to Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the often-strained relationship between their countries that are NATO allies

ANKARA, Turkey — A two-day visit by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Turkey got off to a shaky start Tuesday after Turkey put up bounties for the capture of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following a failed coup in 2016.

Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to discuss an array of subjects that have strained relations between the two NATO allies, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

Also expected to be on the agenda is a possible new peace effort for divided Cyprus, which is split between Greek and Turkish ethnic lines.

Even before Tsipras set foot in the country, state-run Anadolu Agency said the Turkish Interior Ministry had added 74 officers on a list of people wanted for their alleged role in the coup attempt — including the eight servicemen who escaped to Greece.

Turkey is offering 4 million Turkish lira (some $770,000) for the capture of each of the eight servicemen, the agency reported.

Turkey has been irritated by Greek courts' decision not to extradite the servicemen who fled to Greece in a military helicopter soon after the coup attempt failed. They have denied involvement.

In Greece, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, an opposition lawmaker with the New Democracy party who is responsible for foreign affairs, accused Turkey of "a new provocative move" to undermine Tsipras' visit.

"It has placed a bounty on the eight Turkish servicemen, disregarding the final decisions of the independent Greek justice system which has granted them asylum," he said.

On Wednesday, Tsipras will visit an Orthodox theological seminary on an island off Istanbul, becoming the first serving Greek prime minister to do so. The seminary, which trained Orthodox church leaders, has been closed since 1971, despite calls on the Turkish government to reopen it.

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