March 10, 2020 / 12:19 PM / a month ago

Greece rebuffs 963 migrants in border standoff with Turkey

KASTANIES, Greece, March 10 (Reuters) - Nearly 1,000 migrants tried to cross into Greece from Turkey in the past 24 hours despite tight border security, Greek officials said on Tuesday, suggesting little respite in a nearly two-week diplomatic bust-up between Ankara and the European Union.

President Tayyip Erdogan, whose decision on Feb. 28 to open Turkey’s border to migrants wishing to leave triggered the crisis at the border, repeated on Tuesday his call for EU member state Greece to let the people through.

In a briefing to reporters on the border, Greek officials said 963 people had been prevented from illegally crossing into Greece between 6 a.m. on Monday and 6 a.m. on Tuesday, with 52 of them arrested.

The arrested included migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, the officials said.

Greek military vehicles and soldiers on foot continued to patrol along the wire and steel fence that separates Greece’s Kastanies crossing from Turkey’s border post at Pazarkule.

A Greek military band marched close to the Pazarkule crossing playing the Greek national anthem, a reminder of the nationalist passions the crisis has unleashed on both sides.

Greek security forces say they have stopped some 42,000 people from trying to enter Greek territory since the migrants flocked to the border from all over Turkey after Erdogan’s decision to open the border.

That decision appeared designed to put pressure on the EU to offer more financial support to Ankara to handle the 3.6 million migrants it has absorbed from Middle East conflicts and provide the NATO ally with more backing for its role in Syria.

In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel told Erdogan on Monday he needed to pull the migrants back from the border before the EU would consider further support for Turkey. (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; writing by Luke Baker; editing by)

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