ISLAMABAD (AP) — Turkey's president praised Pakistan on Thursday for siding with him against alleged followers of a dissident cleric he blames for a failed coup earlier this year, a day after Pakistan ordered 400 Turkish nationals to leave the country.
"We will eliminate this terrorist organization before it harms Pakistan," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech at Pakistan's parliament before lawmakers, the prime minister and the military leadership.
Turkey has waged a wide-scale crackdown against followers of Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled U.S.-based cleric whose organization runs a global network of charities, business groups, schools and hospitals, including a network of charter schools in the U.S. Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people since July's failed coup and dismissed more than 100,000 civil servants suspected of ties to Gulen.
Erdogan's visit to Pakistan comes as Islamabad ordered 400 Turkish nationals, mostly schoolteachers and their families, to leave the country within 72 hours. They have petitioned a court against the move, and the students have held protests.
Those who face expulsion include staff at the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges and their families. Ankara accuses the chain of links to Gulen.
PakTurk denied the allegations in a statement posted on its website, saying it has "no affiliation or connection with any political individual or any movement or organization."
The Islamabad High Court, which took up the petition by the Turkish nationals, heard arguments from the school's lawyer before a break in the proceedings, according to court official Faheem Rizvi.
The petition said the expulsion would adversely affect 11,000 students in 28 branches of the school across the country. It requested that the orders be rescinded and that the school's expatriate staff be allowed to continue to work in Pakistan, he said.
Meanwhile, more than 150 PakTurk students rallied in Islamabad as the Turkish leader arrived at parliament. In the eastern city of Lahore, hundreds of students blocked a main road to protest the expulsion orders, said Pakistani police officer Adnan Naseer.
"Don't play with our future," student Tariq Ahmad told Pakistani Capital News TV.
Amnesty International expressed concern over the "politically motivated" expulsion of the schoolteachers. The Britain-based rights group said the decision would hurt Pakistani children.
At a joint press conference, Erdogan and Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to enhance bilateral cooperation, share their experience in fighting terrorism and complete a free trade agreement by the end of 2017.
Erdogan thanked Pakistan for taking action against the alleged Gulen supporters, and said that PakTurk students would not suffer.
Turkey has demanded the United States extradite Gulen, who has lived a reclusive life on a compound in the Poconos for more than 15 years. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup and has condemned it. The U.S. is reviewing Turkey's request.