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Death toll in Turkish migrant boat sinking rises to 40

The death toll from a migrant boat sinking in Lake Van in eastern Turkey rose to 40, the local governor's office said on Thursday, after nearly three weeks of search operations.

ISTANBUL, July 16 (Reuters) - The death toll from a migrant boat sinking in Lake Van in eastern Turkey rose to 40, the local governor's office said on Thursday, after nearly three weeks of search operations.

The boat, which sank on June 27, is believed to have been carrying 55-60 migrants, according to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. Five people have been formally arrested in relation to the incident.

Lake Van is near the border with Iran, from where migrants regularly cross into Turkey heading west toward Europe from Iran, Afghanistan and other countries.

Seven people died and 64 were rescued when a boat carrying migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan sank on Lake Van in December.

More than a million people reached Greece from Turkey in 2015-16, although the numbers later dropped sharply under a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey for Ankara to take migrants back in return for funds.

Earlier this year, tens of thousands of migrants tried to cross into Greece via land and sea borders after Ankara said it would no longer stop them. Turkey, home to 3.6 million Syrians, the world's largest refugee population, had said it would open the frontier because it was alarmed by the prospect of another wave of refugees fleeing war in northwest Syria.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen Editing by Dominic Evans)

((ali.kucukgocmen@thomsonreuters.com , @alikucukgocmen; +902123507067; Reuters Messaging: Reuters Messaging: ali.kucukgocmen.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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