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Border Closing Stirs Criticism


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TURKEY'S decision to close its border to thousands of ethnic Turks wanting to immigrate from Bulgaria has embarrassed the government for breaking a promise that officials privately say the country can't keep. Last May the Bulgarian government called upon Turkey to accept ``Bulgarian Muslims'' - the centuries-old minority Turkish community - after riots against a program aimed at eliminating their ethnic and religious heritage. In an emotional reaction, Prime Minister Turgut Ozal said Turkey would not hesitate to receive the estimated 1.5 million Bulgarian Turks and resettle them.

The mass exodus that started in early June had brought 310,000 by last week, when the Ozal government halted the influx by introducing visa requirements.

An official statement said that the decision was taken because Bulgaria refuses to agree to safeguard the rights and property of its ethnic Turks, whether they leave or stay. Officials in Ankara say that Bulgaria sends its Turks packed like ``animals'' on trains, without money or belongings. They said Turkey would reopen its border once an agreement enabling them to come ``in more human conditions'' is reached.

Turkey's opposition parties and critics of Mr. Ozal violently blasted him and his government. The two major party leaders, Suleyman Demirel on the right and Erdal Inonu on the left, blamed Ozal for discrediting and embarrassing the nation.

Strong criticism came also from the Turkish press, academics, and the refugees, many of whom still have members of their passport-holding families in Bulgaria.

More than 100,000 ethnic Turks have applied to Bulgaria for passports. Turkish government reports suggest that had the influx not been stopped, the refugees would have exceeded half a million by the end of the year.


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