Erdogan threatens to expel 10 Western ambassadors

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ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expel ambassadors from 10 countries, including the United States, declaring them “persona non grata” after calling for the release of a jailed philanthropist.

“I gave the instruction to our foreign minister and said ‘You will immediately deal with the persona non grata declaration of these 10 ambassadors’,” Erdogan said in a speech Saturday in Eskisehir, in the western Turkey.

The explosion seemed to indicate a return to icy relations with the West, after a brief thaw that analysts attributed to Mr Erdogan’s concern for his country’s faltering economy.

The envoys, including those from the seven European nations, Canada and New Zealand, as well as the United States, issued a letter earlier this week urging the Turkish government to comply with a ruling by the European Court of rights and to free the philanthropist, Osman Kavala, detained since 2017 when he was not convicted of a crime.

The Biden administration was the driving force behind the letter, in line with the president’s policy of publicly calling states on human rights violations.

A declaration of persona non grata usually means that the person must leave the host country. However, the ambassadors were not immediately given a deadline to leave, and it is not clear whether they would actually be deported.

In recent years, Erdogan has often been at odds with Western countries, allegedly his allies in NATO. Most notably, he has quarreled with Washington over his support for a Kurdish group in Syria that he considers a terrorist organization. He also clashed with the United States over its rapprochement with Russia, a change that saw Turkey purchasing a Russian advanced air defense system.

But he had recently relaxed his stance towards the West in an effort to save Turkey’s failing economy. By threatening to expel diplomats, Erdogan appeared to be reneging on that gamble and severing relations in a way that would allow him to blame the West for the economic crisis, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Institute. from Washington.

“He realizes that he will not be able to turn the economy around, so he will blame the West,” he said. “It’s a recognition that the economy is irreparable.”

Mr. Kavala was acquitted of charges of funding and organizing large-scale anti-government protests in 2013, known as the Taksim Square protests. But the acquittal was immediately replaced with new charges of sponsoring an attempted coup in 2016.

Human rights organizations have dismissed the charges against him as unfounded and urged the committee of ministers overseeing the European Court of Human Rights to initiate infringement proceedings against Turkey, a rare action which could lead to his suspension from court.

The ambassadors released the letter on Tuesday, marking the fourth anniversary of Mr. Kavala’s detention, saying the irregularities in his case “cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency of the government. Turkish judicial system “.

The declaration was signed by the ambassadors of Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, in addition to those of the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

Britain – next month’s host of a climate change conference, COP26, with more than 160 world leaders, including Mr Erdogan – did not sign the letter.

In his remarks on Saturday, Erdogan appeared to leave some room for negotiation. “They should know and understand Turkey,” he said of diplomats. “The day they don’t, they’ll leave. “

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