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09 Aug 17

Turkish President Erdogan to Visit Serbia

Gas pipeline and infrastructure projects could be discussed when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Serbia in September - but also issues that could be more difficult for Belgrade.

Maja Zivanovic BIRN Belgrade

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Beta/Presidential Press Service/Pool photo via AP.

Serbia’s state-owned Vecernje novosti newspaper reported on Tuesday that Erdogan will make an official visit in September, with regional political, energy and economic topics on the agenda – but also more sensitive issues like schools connected to alleged Turkish coup plot mastermind Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan will reportedly arrive in Belgrade at the end of September, along with two planes bringing 150 Turkish businesspeople.

Gulen schools

The Turkish ambassador to Belgrade, Tanzu Bilgic, said on July 14 that he’s hoping that Serbia will close all institutions allegedly connected with Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by the Turkish authorities of being the mastermind of the failed coup in 2016.

“The Fetullah Movement has several schools in Serbia, but also several NGOs, and we discussed this with the Serbian authorities,” Bilgic told B92 television.

“They are a very perverse organisation, you are never sure what they can do, they are infiltrating state institutions,” Bilgic said, adding that he thinks the Serbian government will conform with Ankara’s wishes and close the institutions.

Serbian officials have made no comment about the Gulen issue so far.

Turkish Stream

After Russia announced the cancellation of its South Stream natural gas pipeline, which was to run through Serbia, Ankara’s Turkish Stream is being seen in Belgrade as a potential replacement.

Turkish Stream will pipe gas from Russia to Turkey and then on to Europe, it is envisaged.

Although Serbia is not mentioned in the official plan published on the Gazprom web portal, after Hungary and Russia signed an agreement on July 5 to extend the pipeline to go via Bulgaria and Serbia to Hungary, Serbian officials are hoping that Russia is reviving its former ambitions. 

“This is a major development opportunity for our state, economy and industry,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told Sputnik on July 3. 

Sandzak

Sandzak  - a southern region of Serbia on the border with Montenegro, where the Bosniaks form the majority of the population - could be one of the topics discussed during Erdogan’s visit. 

Erdogan has showed interest in the region before; he visited the town of Novi Pazar in Sandzak in 2010 and opened a Turkish Cultural Centre.

During a meeting between Vucic and Erdogan in Beijing in May, the Turkish president said that more work should be done on joint infrastructure projects such as the highway between the Serbian towns Tutin, Novi Pazar and Sjenica.

After the coup attempt in Turkey, Sandzak residents gathered in numbers in Novi Pazar in August 2016 to support Erdogan and watch a live broadcast of his rally in Istanbul.

Investments

As Vecernje novosti reported on Tuesday, Erdogan's visit could also conclude concrete business agreements, as he will arrive with 150 Turkish businesspeople. 

The newspaper suggested that the textile industry and the privatisation of Serbian spas are areas in which investors from Turkey are particularly interested.

Serbian Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic said in March that four Turkish companies want to open textile factories in Serbia

He explained that Turkish investors visited the Serbian towns of Lazarevac, Nis, Kraljevo, and Leskovac, and said that this year, 23 new Turkish companies have been registered in Serbia.

Refugees

The Balkan Route, although officially closed, remains one of the main ways for refugees to get to the EU.

According to the Serbian Ministry for Social Issues, there are currently around 5,000 refugees in Serbia.

Ahead of Erdogan's visit, Vucic met the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Service, Hakan Fidan, on Monday in Belgrade and talked about the security challenges facing the two countries.

Vucic said that these include the migrant crisis as well as growing terrorist threats.

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