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In Turkey visit, Britain’s May highlights trade, and human rights

Turkish President Erdogan meets with Britain's Prime Minister May at the Presidential Palace in Ankara

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday signed a $125m defence equipment deal with Turkey and promised to push for more trade between the Nato allies, but cautioned Ankara on human rights following last year’s failed coup.

May, in Turkey after a trip to Washington where she met US President Donald Trump, visited both countries for the first time as prime minister, promoting trade agreements to strengthen her hand in negotiations to leave the European Union.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Ankara alongside President Tayyip Erdogan, May called Turkey one of Britain’s oldest friends and briefly touched on human rights, a sore point for Erdogan, who accuses the West of not showing enough solidarity following the July 15 military putsch attempt.

“I’m proud that the UK stood with you on the 15 July last year in defence of democracy and now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do,” she said.

More than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended following the failed coup and some 40,000 jailed pending trial. The scope of the crackdown has worried rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies, but Ankara says the moves are necessary to root out supporters of the attempted putsch.

May said the two countries had agreed to form a joint working group for post-Brexit trade and would step up an aviation security programme.

The two countries signed a defence deal worth more than £100m ($125m) on Saturday to develop Turkish fighter jets.

‘OPEN FOR BUSINESS’

May hailed the deal, which involves BAE Systems and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) working together to develop the TF-X Turkish fighter programme, saying it showed “that Britain is a great, global, trading nation and that we are open for business”.

Erdogan told reporters that he discussed steps towards defence industry cooperation with May, and that he hoped to increase annual trade with Britain to $20bn from $15.6bn now.

May’s government is keen to start laying the groundwork for bilateral trade agreements for when Britain leaves the European Union – a process that will take at least two years after triggering the formal divorce talks by the end of March.

May’s spokeswoman has said Turkey would be the 13th country to set up a working group on trade with Britain.

The United Kingdom was the second-largest destination for Turkish exports in 2015, buying $10.6bn in goods, according to IMF trade data. Only Germany imports more from Turkey

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