Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, speaks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, in Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Erdogan is on a two-day official visit to Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Erdogan holds talks in Serbia as Turkey hikes Balkan clout
Jovana Gec (Associated Press) - October 10, 2017 - 9:14pm

BELGRADE — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Serbia's president on yesterday as Ankara stepped up efforts to increase its clout in the Balkans.

Erdogan's talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic focused on trade and investment, but also covered political relations in the region, where many countries have historic and religious links with Turkey from centuries of Ottoman rule.

Erdogan said that the current trade exchange between the two countries of $800 million (682 million euros) "is not enough" and that it should rapidly grow in the near future.

He promised more Turkish investments, including into a highway linking the Serbian and Bosnian capitals.

Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Vucic that more investments and road links would "solve the problems in the Balkans."

Relations between Serbia and Turkey have improved recent years, after decades of mistrust between the two nations. Serbia was ruled for almost 500 years by the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey backed Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s war that pitted them against the Christian Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

"This is not 1389, but 2017," Vucic said, referring to the year when the Ottoman occupation of Serbia started. "Today, Serbia considers Turkey as its friend."

Serbian and Turkish officials signed several agreements on yesterday, including an amended free trade accord that will open the Turkish market to several Serb products.

Erdogan will travel with Vucic to the predominantly Muslim-populated southern Sandzak region of Serbia on Wednesday.

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