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Japan, Turkey agree on trade, atomic power

TOKYO--Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe for free trade talks Tuesday, as pressure mounted at home over a corruption scandal in which hundreds of police officers were fired.

The two countries also confirmed their cooperation on nuclear technology, as Abe seeks deals to revive the world's third-largest economy.

Abe visited Turkey twice last year, cementing atomic contracts and pushing the export of more reactors as the industry tries to emerge from the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Erdogan, who has been under fire over corruption and bribery probes involving his government, arrived in Japan on Monday as part of a six-day Asian tour.

The pair did not field questions at a Tokyo press briefing and Erdogan offered no comment over Ankara's reported firing of 350 police officers, the latest twist in the vast corruption scandal that has ensnared his key allies.

“We agreed to start inter-governmental negotiations on an economic partnership agreement,” Abe told reporters.

Erdogan added that “we will make efforts toward an early completion of the talks”, saying the nations' US$4.0 billion annual trading relationship “doesn't match the potential of either country.”

In his second visit to Turkey in October, Abe penned an agreement with Erdogan that allows Japanese manufactures to build nuclear power plants in the country.

On Tuesday, the leaders also agreed to cooperate in addressing the crisis in Syria and Iran's nuclear programme, weeks before of a U.N.-hosted peace conference, they said.

Ahead of the talks with Abe, Erdogan said the peace conference must work to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power because of his culpability in tens of thousands of deaths.

“We must make sure that ... all the measures will not fail ... so that we can (bring) in an era without Bashar al-Assad,” he said earlier Tuesday, referring to peace talks planned later this month in Switzerland.

The huge corruption scandal which has implicated Erdogan's entourage and dragged down some of his ministers erupted last month, with elections looming in March.

The affair has dented Turkey's image as a model of Muslim democracy and stability, while pushing the lira to record lows against the U.S. dollar and undermining investor confidence.

Earlier Tuesday, however, Erdogan said “our government successfully navigated the Turkish economy,” pointing to rapid growth, declining inflation and a reduction in the national debt during his 11-year pro-business tenure.

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