Speaking at a joint news conference in the Maltese capital Valetta, Yildirim said the Mediterranean island nation had always supported Turkey’s EU membership bid without preconditions.

Yildirim was on an official visit where he met his Maltese counterpart Joseph Muscat.

The pair discussed bilateral relations, the future of Turkey-EU relations plus the agreement to renew a Turkey-EU customs deal, Yildirim said.

The Turkish premier said he hoped new chapters on Turkey’s EU membership accession would be opened under Malta’s presidency, which expires in June this year.

Regarding settlement talks in Cyprus, the Turkish prime minister reiterated Ankara’s unanimous support for a peace deal on the island.

He said the Turkish Cypriot community had been “paying the price” for a failure to reach a settlement.

He also dismissed European criticisms on press freedom in Turkey.

“Freedom of the press, [of] speech and justice is important for Turkey. I want to say to those who criticize Turkey in these regards: ‘Let’s open new EU chapters on it, then discuss.’

“Here I openly call on the EU to open chapters 23 and 24 on media, press and justice. We will answer whatever they need there,” he added.

Anadolu Agency