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Vandals desecrate Turkish graves in Greece, police say

ATHENS – Agence France-Presse | 8/15/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Vandals have desecrated a Muslim cemetery at Komotini in northeastern Greece where an ethnic Turk minority still lives, a police source said on Saturday, with Athens swiftly condemning the act.

Vandals have desecrated a Muslim cemetery at Komotini in northeastern Greece where an ethnic Turk minority still lives, a police source said on Saturday, with Athens swiftly condemning the act.

Around 10 gravestones were smashed overnight Friday to Saturday, the source said, asking not to be named. Around 30 members of the local Turkish community subsequently demonstrated in central Komotini.

Greek government spokesman George Petalotis blamed the vandalism on "marginal groups trying to sow hatred."

"Their acts must be condemned and are against our national interests," he said in a statement.

The desecration came after unknown assailants on Thursday threw a firebomb at the Turkish consulate in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, without causing damage or casualties.

Petalotis condemned that attack as a "criminal act" that Athens "condemns absolutely and categorically."

The fate of the Turkish minority living in Thrace, near the Turkish border, remains a bone of contention between Athens and Ankara, despite efforts to improve their status in the 1990s.

Regional rivals for centuries despite being members of NATO for the past five decades, Greece and Turkey markedly improved relations in 1999 after destructive earthquakes struck both countries within weeks of each other.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Greece in May for talks with his counterpart George Papandreou, who had headed the rapprochement effort as foreign minister a decade ago.

The two leaders signed some two dozen accords and set up a high-level cooperation council providing for regular meetings between leaders and Cabinet ministers to resolve differences.

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