Turkey-Russia jet downing: Erdogan 'saddened' over plane

Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at a rally in Bayburt - 27 November Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Erdogan has been unrepentant about the shooting down of the Russian jet

Turkey's president has said he is "saddened" by the downing of a Russian combat jet by Turkish forces on the Syrian border last Tuesday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wished the incident had not happened and hoped it would not happen again.

He has so far refused to apologise to Russia, accusing Moscow of "playing with fire" in its Syria operations.

The president's remarks came as Turkey warned its citizens against non-essential travel to Russia.

The Foreign Ministry said visits should be avoided "until the situation becomes clear", citing problems such as anti-Turkish demonstrations outside the country's embassy in Moscow.

On Friday Russia suspended its visa-free arrangement with Turkey and is planning to introduce a wide range of economic sanctions.

Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Istanbul

He mentioned the "s" word - but not the one Vladimir Putin wanted.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's expression of "sadness" is an olive branch. But President Putin says he expects a "sorry" from his Turkish counterpart, refusing to answer the phone to Mr Erdogan until it's uttered.

Both strongmen leaders are trying a difficult balancing act - pleasing their nationalist supporters at home while trying not to destroy a vital bilateral relationship.

Moscow says it will re-impose visa restrictions on Turks from January. Ankara has warned against "all but essential travel" for its citizens to Russia. There is talk of wider economic sanctions and tough rhetoric - President Putin calling Turkey an "accomplice of terror", President Erdogan saying Russia should not "play with fire".

But the two countries depend on each other economically - Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner - and they need to unite to defeat Islamic State. So it's still likely they'll avoid this escalating out of control. Expect more inching forward in the days ahead, if not the full-blown apology that both sides want.

Mr Erdogan has asked for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Mr Putin wants an apology from Turkey before he will agree to talks.

The Turkish president again defended the incident and criticised Russia's operations in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Ankara opposes.

But he renewed his call for a meeting with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the Paris Climate talks next week, saying that both sides should approach the issue more positively.

"We wish it hadn't happened, but it happened," he said, quoted by the Associated Press. "I hope something like this doesn't happen again."

Image copyright AP
Image caption The S-400, Russia's most advanced missile defence system, will provide cover for its aircraft in Syria

Russia has sent troops and aircraft to Syria to back up the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.

Turkey, which is a member of Nato and of a US-led coalition in the region, insists Mr Assad must step down before any political solution to the Syrian conflict is found.

Both countries say they are trying to rid the region of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, which has been blamed for the recent attacks on Paris, Ankara and also on a Russian airliner.

And on Friday Russia said it had strengthened its anti-aircraft defences by moving a cruiser towards the coast and deploying new missiles at its main base.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Anti-Putin demonstrators turned out in Istanbul on Friday

The Moskva cruiser's long-range air defence system will provide cover for Russian aircraft, as will the S-400 missiles which arrived on Thursday.

Turkey says the Russian plane had intruded into its airspace and ignored warnings to leave.

Moscow maintains that the downed SU-24 fighter jet was downed by a missile fired from a Turkish jet inside Syria.

Mr Putin has also firmly rejected any suggestion Turkey did not recognise the plane as Russian. He said it was easily identifiable and its co-ordinates had been passed on to Turkey's ally, the US.

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Media captionRussians vow to abandon Turkey's beaches

Russia on Thursday said it was drafting a wide-ranging list of economic sanctions against Turkey that would hit food imports and joint investment projects among other things.

Turkey and Russia have important economic links. Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner, while more than three million Russian tourists visited Turkey last year.

Mr Erdogan's latest statement on the downing of the plane came in an address to supporters in Balikesir, western Turkey, following the murder of a senior Kurdish lawyer, Tahir Elci, in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir earlier on Saturday.

Mr Elci was shot dead by an unknown gunman as he called for an end to violence between Turkey and the Kurdish rebel PKK group, which resumed in July.