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Greece's former foreign minister joins hundreds of Turks at ex-minister Cem's funeral

Greece's former foreign minister joins hundreds of Turks at ex-minister Cem's funeral

Greece's former foreign minister, George Papandreou, gently threw two olive branches onto the grave of Ismail Cem on Friday, bidding farewell to a charismatic former Turkish foreign minister with whom he had championed ending decades of hostile relations between the two rival countries.
Earlier, Papandreou and his wife Ada joined hundreds of mourners crammed into the courtyard of a mosque for the funeral of the politician who died Wednesday after a battle with lung cancer, aged 67.
Cem served as foreign minister under three successive governments between 1997 and 2003, becoming one of the longest-serving Turkish foreign ministers in recent years. His greatest achievement was the rapprochement with Greece.
Buoyed by the outpouring of mutual sympathy following successive fatal earthquakes in Greece and Turkey, Cem and Papandreou initiated confidence-building measures to mend fences between the neighbors that had nearly gone to war three times in the past 40 years.
Their efforts culminated in a series of agreements to cooperate in culture, the economy and combatting crime, and pledges to work toward tackling the two countries' more difficult territorial disputes in the Aegean.
Mourners applauded as Cem's hearse left the mosque for the graveyard, after prayers also attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Well-wishers also applauded Papandreou, who now heads Greece's main opposition Socialist party, as he left the mosque.
In 2001, Cem and Papandreou met in the Greek island of Samos, then took a short ferry trip to the Turkish resort of Kusadasi to promote peace and friendship between the countries. In Samos, Cem could be seen clapping while Papandreou and his two brothers performed a traditional Greek folk dance. That year, the two men also traveled to Israel, to show the Israelis and Palestinians that traditional foes can also be friends.
"Today, when I came here to the cemetery to leave an olive branch from my garden, I wanted to pay my last respects to my friend and to remind all that years ago we were on the island of Samos, where together we planted an olive tree to symbolize peace," Papandreou told reporters.
"I wanted to say to Ismail that this olive tree is strong, and I will work very hard to make it stronger for peace between our countries and our peoples," Papandreou said. "We had many moments together, many difficult, but also many happy moments in making our vision come true."
Cem began his career as a journalist, quickly earning a column in Milliyet newspaper and catching the eye of then-Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who appointed him director of state-run radio and television in 1972. At 34, he was the youngest person ever to hold the post.
His brief spell as culture minister in 1995 ended before he could achieve his dream of organizing a mass pop concert to benefit survivors of the Bosnian conflict. He was elected to parliament in 1995 and re-elected four years later.


Updated : 2021-01-16 04:39 GMT+08:00