ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Officials on the Greek island of Rhodes opened a new vacation visa terminal for Turkish visitors Monday as part of a diplomatic effort to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries.

The limited-access visa will allow Turks to visit 10 Greek islands for up to a week without having to apply for full access to the European Union’s passport-free travel zone, known as the Schengen area.


NATO members Greece and Turkey launched several initiatives last year to try and sidestep decades-old disputes — mostly over sea boundaries and mineral rights in the Aegean Sea— to focus on trade.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in December to sign a series of bilateral cooperation agreements in Athens. Mitsotakis will visit Turkey next month. “The express visa can be issued not only in summer, but all year round. The measure is designed to boost tourism in areas and at times of the year when there is not a lot of traffic, so it will help the local economies,” Mitsotakis wrote in a weekly online post Sunday.

Granted at participating Greek ports, the new visa will cost 60 euros and will include a passport check and fingerprint recording, while visitors will not be allowed to travel onto other EU member states, Greek officials said.

“The new system is ready and there is a lot of demand from Turkish visitors. But there were no boats scheduled to arrive today. We will have arrivals later this week,” Vassilis Vayiannakis, head of the Rhodes Port Fund, told the AP.

The islands in the vacation visa program all lie near the Turkish coastline and also include Lesbos, Limnos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Symi and Kastellorizo, with the smaller islands due to join in June.

Turkey has long sought more relaxed travel rules for its citizens visiting the EU in exchange for its cooperation with member states of the bloc that include efforts to curb illegal immigration. Tourism is a vital industry for the Greek economy. The country welcomed 32.7 million visitors last year, raising 20.5 billion euros, according to central bank data.

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