Greece’s prime minister makes border wall a campaign promise

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) – Greece’s prime minister on Friday vowed to build a wall across the country’s entire land border with Turkey as he campaigned for the country’s general election.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who earlier this week called elections for May 21, is expected later in the day to sign off on his centre-right government’s decision to nearly double the length of the existing steel border wall over the next year.

The wall currently stretches 37.5 kilometers (25 miles) and the government plans to extend it by 35 kilometers over the next 12 months. By 2026, more than 100 kilometers of wall should be added, government officials said.

The border security remains a high profile issue in Greece due to longstanding disputes with Turkey and a mass migration of refugees and migrants to the European Union in 2015-16, largely prompted by wars in Syria and Iraq.

Mitsotakis and other officials accused their political opponents from the left-wing Syriza party of trying to undermine the project and block the government’s attempt to get EU funds for it.

“I want to express my regret that today there are political forces in Greece fighting against this project,” Mitsotakis told his supporters during his campaign stop in Orestiada, a town near the Greek-Turkish border.

“Let them make their position clear: will they tear down the wall we have already built and return to an open borders policy? Or will they keep it and help secure Greece’s borders?” asked Mitsotakis.

Syriza officials accused the government of misrepresenting the opposition’s position, adding that the EU executive committee had already ruled out direct funding for border walls.

“We will not tear anything down,” Dimitris Papadimoulis, vice-president of the European Parliament, who heads the Syriza delegation in the EU legislature, told Greek radio station Real FM. “And of course we support EU funding for border security needs, like funding for night vision cameras and coastguard vessels.”

Papadimoulis accused the government of supporting far-right voters and trying to divert attention from a deadly rail disaster last month that sparked public anger and slashed Mitsotakis’ lead in opinion polls.

The government argues the wall has acted as an effective deterrent to illegal migration, helping to prevent more than 250,000 crossings at the land border over the past year.


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Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece.

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