By Gulsen Solaker
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish authorities are investigating foster families for suspected ties to a failed coup and may remove children from homes if their guardians are found to be supporters of the putsch, a government official said on Monday.
The government has so far detained or dismissed 125,000 people over alleged links to the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the July 15 coup. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the state of Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the putsch and condemned it.
The scope of the crackdown has alarmed human rights groups and Turkey's Western allies who fear President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to curtail dissent. The government says its investigations are necessary to stamp out the influence of Gulen's network, which it refers to as the "Gulenist Terror Organisation", or "FETO".
"It would not be right for a child to remain with a (foster) family if links to FETO are confirmed as a result of the examinations," the official from the Ministry of Family and Social Policy told Reuters.
The official, who declined to be identified, said the investigations had been going on since August 23.
"This is a slow process in which detailed examinations are being carried out. So it is out of the question for children to be suddenly ripped away from their families," the official said, adding that the psychological health of the children was being closely monitored.
Around 5,000 foster families and some related institutions are being investigated, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper reported. The government has also cut off cooperation with four childcare-related NGOs as part of its investigation, the newspaper said.
Last week European lawmakers voted for a temporary halt to EU membership talks with Turkey, citing Ankara's "disproportionate" reaction to the coup over the past four months.
Luxembourg's foreign minister said this month that Turkey's handling of dismissed civil servants reminded him of methods used by the Nazis and that eventually the EU would have to respond with sanctions.
Such comments have infuriated Ankara, which has criticized Europe for a lack of solidarity following the coup. Erdogan last week warned the EU that Turkey could unleash a new wave of migrants on Europe if relations deteriorated further.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Gareth Jones)