Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Thursday insisted his country would not relax its contested anti-terror laws, a key condition laid down by the European Union for giving Turks visa-free access to the bloc.
Yildirim pointed to the series of terror attacks that have rocked Turkey in the past year in telling visiting EU Parliament chief Martin Schulz the government would maintain its hardline stance.
"We have made it clear to the European Union and Mr Schulz that we cannot amend our anti-terror laws under the current circumstances. It is a matter of life or death for us," Yildirim told a joint news conference with Schulz.
The EU in March reached a deal with Turkey to halt the mass flow of migrants across the Mediterranean in return for a set of incentives, including billions of euros in aid for refugees on Turkish soil and visa-free EU access for Turkish citizens.
But before scrapping the visa requirement, the EU says Ankara must amend its draconian security laws, which have been used to carry out a sweeping crackdown on critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In quotes translated from German to Turkish, Schulz admitted to differences on the issue but said a workaround could maybe be found.
His visit to Ankara was the first by a top EU official since Turkey's bloody July 15 failed coup, which the authorities have blamed on supporters of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Ankara's relations with Brussels have deteriorated sharply since the coup attempt.
The EU has expressed particular alarm at the mass purges of the security forces, judiciary, media and academia that followed the putsch. Tens of thousands of civil servants have been fired and dozens of journalists have been detained.
- 'Unwavering support' -
Schulz said that the EU was surprised by the speed with which Turkey rounded up thousands of suspects but said some of his questions had been answered during the Ankara talks.
A frustrated Turkey has lashed out at Europe for what it sees as its lack of solidarity in the wake of the coup.
Erdogan accused the West of supporting the "terrorist" coup plotters who sought to unseat him.
Ankara also reacted angrily to an EU warning that any move by Turkey to reinstate the death penalty would jeopardise EU membership talks. Erdogan suggested he could bring back capital punishment but the government later rowed back from the threat.
Schulz said the quality of a democracy was measured by its respect for freedom of the press and free speech and urged Turkey to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.
On his official Twitter account, he lauded his "constructive discussions" with the Turkish premier and reiterated the European Parliament's "unwavering support" for Turkey's democracy.