Turkey navigates tense relations with key allies

AP News
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Posted: Aug 01, 2016 3:40 PM
Turkey navigates tense relations with key allies

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey summoned a German diplomat Monday over a court decision that prevented President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from addressing a demonstration in Germany, while the top U.S. military official visited Ankara as Turkey navigated through increasingly strained relations with key allies.

The government has expressed growing annoyance over what it sees as a lack of support from its allies in the European Union over its response to the failed July 15 coup, saying it expected solidarity rather than criticism for the widespread crackdown on those suspected of links to the coup plotters.

The attempted coup left 271 people dead in a night of violence when renegade sections of the military used tanks, fighter jets and helicopters to try to overthrow the government.

Erdogan has accused the United States of harboring Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and who the president says masterminded the coup. Ankara has demanded Gulen's extradition, but Washington is asking for evidence of the cleric's involvement and says the extradition process must be allowed to run its course.

Gulen was once an Erdogan ally until ties soured several years ago.

In a sign of efforts to shore up relations, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, visited Turkey and met with his Turkish counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar, who was briefly held captive by the rebels during the coup, as well as with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

Ahead of the meetings, U.S. joint staff spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks said Dunford would "deliver messages condemning in the strongest terms the recent coup attempt."

Hicks said the general would also reaffirm "the importance of our enduring partnership for regional security," citing operations out of the Incirlik air base against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and Turkey's contributions to NATO and the fight against the Islamic State group.

While in Ankara, Dunford was taken on a tour of the Parliament building, which was bombed during the night of July 15.

At a small protest held near the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, demonstrators held up placards reading "Dunford go home, send us Fethullhah," and "Get out coup plotter Dunford."

A statement from Yildirim's office said during talks, the Turkish prime minister told Dunford that his country wanted the U.S. to display its stance against the coup in a "clear and determined" way and renewed Turkey's expectation that Gulen and U.S.-based members of his movement be extradited to Turkey soon.

The Turkish statement said that for his part, Dunford strongly condemned the coup attempt and said he was visiting Ankara in a show of solidarity with the Turkish government and people.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry summoned Germany's charge d'affaires in Ankara to discuss a German court decision that prevented Erdogan from addressing via video link a Sunday rally in the German city of Cologne denouncing the coup attempt and showing support for Erdogan.

The court ruled that messages from speakers elsewhere, such as politicians in Turkey, could not be shown on a video screen at the rally, which was attended by about 30,000-40,000 people. A message from Erdogan was read out instead. Germany is home to roughly 3 million people with Turkish roots.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Germany's action was contrary to freedom of speech.

Kurtulmus said German courts normally address cases very slowly, "yet the German Constitutional Court prohibited our president addressing the rally via teleconference in less than 24 hours. . This is a clear double standard."

German officials insist there was no wrongdoing.

"The decision not to allow the broadcast was absolutely OK and also lawful," German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Monday.

Relations between the two countries have soured since the German Parliament voted June 2 to label the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.

European officials and human rights groups have expressed increasing concern with the Turkish crackdown, in which nearly 70,000 people have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in sectors including the civil service, education, the judiciary, health care and the media. Authorities say they are suspected of involvement with Gulen's movement, which runs schools, charities, hospitals and businesses across the world.

More than 18,000 people have been detained, most of them from the military, while the government has issued decrees bringing the powerful armed forces more under civilian control.

About 3,000 officers suspected of involvement in the coup or of links to Gulen's movement have been discharged from the armed forces since the failed attempt and Defense Minister Fikri Isik told CNN Turk television in an interview Monday that the purges from the military would continue.

Isik said 311 military personnel believed to have participated in the coup were still on the run including nine generals.

Turkey had also canceled this year's Aug. 30 Victory Day military parades because of the "extraordinary situation," the minister said.

Kurtulmus said anyone associated with Gulen's movement would be purged from the public sector and his government "will show no mercy" toward suspects linked to the coup.

"Citizens who don't have any relationship with this organization have nothing to worry about, they should rest easy nothing will happen to you, but those who do should fear," the deputy prime minister said. "Sorry, but everything has a price."

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Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.