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Greek islands launch special visa program for Turkish visitors in diplomatic effort to calm region

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Officials on the Greek island of Rhodes opened a new vacation visa terminal for Turkish visitors Monday as part of a diplomatic effort to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries .

The limited access visa will allow Turks to visit 10 Greek islands for up to a week without having to apply for full access to the European Union’s passport-free travel zone, known as the Schengen area.

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NATO members Greece and Turkey launched several initiatives last year to try to avoid decades-old disputes – mainly over maritime borders and mining rights in the Aegean Sea – to focus on commerce.

Tourists enjoy the beach and sea in Lindos on the island of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea, southeastern Greece, Thursday July 27, 2023. Authorities on the Greek island of Rhodes have opened a new holiday visa terminal for Turkish visitors on Monday, April 1. 2024 as part of a diplomatic effort to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in December to sign a series of bilateral cooperation agreements in Athens. Mitsotakis will visit Türkiye next month. “The express visa can be issued not only in summer, but all year round. The measure aims to stimulate tourism in areas and times of the year where there is not much traffic, so it will help local economies,” Mitsotakis wrote in a weekly online article on Sunday.

Granted at participating Greek ports, the new visa will cost 60 euros and include a passport check and fingerprint registration, while visitors will not be allowed to travel to other EU member states, they said. Greek officials.

“The new system is ready and there is high demand from Turkish visitors. But no boats were scheduled today. We will have arrivals later this week,” Vassilis Vayiannakis told the AP, director of the Rhodes Port Fund.

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The holiday visa program islands are all close to the Turkish coast and also include Lesbos, Limnos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Symi and Kastellorizo, with the smaller islands due to join them in June.

Turkey has long sought to relax travel rules for its citizens visiting the EU in return for its cooperation with the bloc’s member states, including to combat illegal immigration. Tourism is a vital industry for the Greek economy. The country welcomed 32.7 million visitors last year, raising 20.5 billion euros, according to central bank data.

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