Queen Elizabeth says Turkey is “a bridge between East and West”.

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The royal – who is in the country on a four-day state visit with Prince Philip – was speaking at a banquet hosted by Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and his wife Hayrunnisa, in Ankara, yesterday (13.05.08).

The queen, who wore a tiara and a white gown, said: “For us, Turkey is as important now as it has ever been. Turkey is uniquely positioned as a bridge between East and West at a crucial time for the European Union and the world in general.”

She added to President Gul: “You are playing a key role in promoting peace, political stability and economic development in some of the world’s most unsettled areas.”

President Gul then thanked the UK for supporting Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

He said: “The United Kingdom has become one of our most loyal supporters in Turkey’s march toward membership of the European Union. We are grateful for this unwavering and permanent support.”

In her first visit to Turkey since 1971, the queen also laid a wreath at the tomb of Kemal Ataturk – the founder of the Turkish Republic.

She said of Ataturk: “He is one of the greatest figures of modern history.”

The royal trip, which has been organised to promote relations between Turkey and the UK, will also see the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visit Bursa and tour a school in Istanbul.