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Merkel resists Balkan route 'closure' in EU summit draft text

The German chancellor has opposed a part of the EU summit draft text declaring that the Balkan route through Europe "is now closed." EU and Turkish leaders have met in Brussels to discuss ways to stem the migrant flow.

Angela Merkel said on arrival at an emergency migration summit between EU and Turkish leaders on Monday that she did not support a part of the summit's draft resolution declaring that the Balkan route through Europe "is now closed."

Merkel said the EU's response to the issue "cannot be about closing things." Instead, she called for a "sustainable solution together with Turkey," to ensure that migration flows reduced for "all countries, including Greece."

A draft statement from the European Council which went public on Saturday had said Brussels planned to close the route in an effort to prevent more migrants from moving north into Europe on land. However, German newspaper "Bild" reported that Merkel rejected the plan upon her arrival in Brussels, with support from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

"It cannot be about closing things," the newspaper quoted her as saying.

Reporting from Brussels, DW correspondent Max Hofmann said they were at work rewriting the sentence in the draft paper.

Speculation over the route closure came after Macedonia decided to effectively shut its border, strandings thousands of migrants along the border with Greece.

The situation has led leaders in Athens to be especially vocal about the necessity of the EU agreeing on a comprehensive and coordinated approach to stemming the number of migrants.

"Rules are for all, and everybody has to implement our common decisions," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters before a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the sidelines of the summit.

'Dishonesty on both sides'

Türkei Premier Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkish PM Davutoglu is in Brussels for the summit

Meanwhile, the EU plans to urge Ankara to take back economic migrants

in exchange for an aid package of 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion).

Some European leaders have been critical about the deal, however, with German politician Alexander Grad Lambsdorff, a representative of the Free Democratic Party in the European Parliament, telling Deutschlandfunk that "we shouldn't be led through the ring by the nose."

Lambsdorff was especially critical of the leeway given to Turkey despite recent human rights violations, including the storming of an opposition newspaper's office a few days ago. He said that solving the refugee crisis should be a separate issue from Turkish accession to the EU, and that negotiations over the matter "were conducted dishonestly on both sides."

European Parliament President Martin Schulz also lamented Ankara gagging the critical Zaman newspaper.

NATO ramps up efforts

The summit also comes a day after NATO said it would deploy warships in the Aegean, in an effort to block smugglers from bringing migrants into Europe. Early on Monday, Britain said it would contribute to the effort by providing a warship and helicopter, in addition to other vessels already in the area.

On Friday, the International Office of Migration said that just under 126,000 migrants had arrived on the Greek islands since the beginning of 2016.

blc/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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