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Greek president accuses Turkish port officials of helping people smugglers

BERLIN (Reuters) - Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said Turkey was not doing enough to reduce the number of migrants arriving in Europe and accused Turkish port officials of helping people smugglers, drawing a denial from Ankara on Monday.

A refugee tries to stand up after falling into the sea as Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive on a raft on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, January 1, 2016. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

Turkey reached a deal with EU officials late last year to keep more refugees inside its borders and stop them traveling onto Europe. Thousands fleeing civil war in Syria have made the perilous journey from Turkey, across the Aegean Sea to Ankara’s long-term regional rival Greece, many of them dying on the way.

“I greatly fear that Turkish people smugglers are getting support from the authorities,” Pavlopoulos said in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung published on Monday.

“In particular, the port authorities act as if they don’t notice anything. There are cases in which smugglers have supposedly been helped. We have evidence for this,” he said.

A senior Turkish official strongly denied the allegations, saying Ankara was determinedly fighting irregular migration.

“Allegations that Turkish authorities have closed their eyes to human trafficking and helped smugglers are baseless and slander,” the official told Reuters.

He said statistics showed Turkey had prevented the passage of nearly 200,000 irregular migrants and caught more than 3,800 people smugglers in 2015.

“In an environment where bilateral cooperation in the fight against irregular migration has intensified so much, the Greek president’s comments were met with astonishment,” he added.

Pavlopoulos said Greece was still prepared to contribute towards the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) pledged by the EU to Turkey to help care for Syrian refugees as long as Ankara fulfilled its obligations.

“Up to now Turkey has not delivered,” Pavlopoulos, who is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Monday, told the paper.

The European Commission said earlier this month it was far from satisfied with Turkey’s containment of migrants as the number of new arrivals to Europe remained far too high.

($1 = 0.9184 euros)

Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Sarah Young