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Malaysia, Turkey aim to conclude free-trade deal

10 january 2014, 13:44
Malaysia and Turkey pledged Friday to wrap up a free-trade deal this year as embattled Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepared to return home to a political crisis, AFP reports.

Erdogan met with his host, Malaysian premier Najib Razak, on the final day of a week-long trip that earlier took him to Japan and Singapore.

During his Asia visit, Erdogan has avoided comment on the Turkish political maelstrom that first erupted in December when dozens of leading businessmen and political figures were detained in a corruption probe whose targets include key Erdogan allies.

Erdogan's government has responded to the widening investigation by moving to root out political foes in the police and judiciary in a purge that has seen hundreds of police personnel fired.

Erdogan did not take questions during a press briefing with Najib that focused on a joint pledge to finalise a free-trade deal by April and lift trade between the two majority-Muslim countries to $5 billion in five years.

"There are countless opportunities we can seize," Erdogan said, listing cooperation in energy, the automotive sector and infrastructure as possibilities.

Bilateral trade was $918 million in January-October 2013, Najib said.

Malaysia and Turkey first began discussing a free-trade deal in 2009, according to Malaysia's government, but previous targeted completion dates have been missed.

The political crisis in Turkey is the biggest threat to occur in Erdogan's 11 years in power.

He calls the investigation a plot to topple his Islamic-rooted government.

But critics have labelled his response a desperate attempt to protect cronies caught up in the probe of alleged bribery in construction projects and illicit money transfers by a state-owned bank to sanctions-hit Iran.

The situation also has raised questions over Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union, which requires member countries to bring their legislation in line with EU norms and safeguard the rule of law.

After their press conference, Erdogan and Najib were to attend Friday prayers together.

Erdogan was scheduled to depart Malaysia for the trip home late Friday.

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