Monday

16th Jan 2017

MEPs cancel Turkey trip as relations sour

  • Kati Piri was scheduled to meet Turkish officials to help bridge a widening diplomatic gap (Photo: Euranet Plus)

EU lawmakers have cancelled a trip to Ankara, days before parliament votes on a non-binding resolution to end Turkey's EU membership talks.

Turkish authorities are intensifying a crackdown against political opposition, Kurdish separatists, media and civil society.

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  • The post-coup purge has seen thousands of people jailed (Photo: Reuters)

The government says it is an effort to weed out state saboteurs and so-called terrorists, but the EU says Turkey is trampling on the rule of law and democratic processes.

German centre-right Elmar Brok and Dutch socialist Kati Piri were scheduled to meet Turkish officials on Wednesday (16 November) to help bridge a widening diplomatic gap.

Brok heads the parliament's foreign affairs committee and Piri is the assembly's lead negotiator on Turkey.

But Ankara refused to meet Piri, who has accused the authorities of conducting a witch-hunt in the wake of a failed coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

EU parliament chief Martin Schulz said in a statement that it was important for the EU to maintain an open dialogue with Turkey, but not on any condition.

"Mr Brok and Ms Piri represent the European Parliament and we cannot allow a pick-and-choose approach on who speaks to whom," he said.

Schulz told Turkey's EU affairs minister Omer Celik earlier this week that Ankara's purge of alleged associates of Islamic teacher Fethullah Gulen was disproportionate. The exiled cleric has been accused of orchestrating the July coup, a charge he denies.

Turkey has jailed journalists and opposition MPs and dismissed some 100,000 people from their government jobs.

MEPs in Strasbourg next week are set to vote on a non-binding resolution to suspend talks on Turkey's EU membership.

The call follows a critical progress report from the EU commission earlier this month. It appears to be gaining support among big political groups with Manfred Weber, who heads the centre-right EPP, also demanding a freeze in Turkey's membership talks.

Steinmeier visit

Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had also met and spoken to Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday.

Steinmeier hopes to maintain relations with Ankara given an EU migrant-swap deal that has curbed the number of people arriving on Greek islands to claim asylum.

The German minister also said he hoped to restore relations in a visit to defend free press, free expression and civil society.

But his efforts appear have fallen on deaf ears. Erdogan on Wednesday accused Germany of "implicitly or explicitly" supporting Kurdish rebel group PKK.

Turkey's interior ministry, only days ahead of Steinmeier's diplomatic visit, had announced a blanket and arbitrary suspension of 370 NGOs for three months. Those NGOs span from children and women's rights to lawyer associations.

"These arbitrary suspensions violate the rights to freedom of expression and association, and cannot be justified, even under the state of emergency," said Amnesty International.

Erdogan president until 2029

Erdogan now aims to govern the country under an executive presidency until 2029, reports Reuters.

Senior officials told the news agency that Erdogan would try to assume the long-term executive role following a referendum planned for next spring.

An executive presidency would allow him to issue decrees without having to consult parliament.

Turkey's constitution imposes a two-term limit on presidents. Should he win the 2019 election, Erdogan would under normal conditions, have to step down in 2024.

Interview

'Don't push Turkey away', says writer Elif Shafak

Novelist and essayist Elif Shafak said that isolating Turkey would "play into the hands of populism" and that liberals everywhere should defend their values with "emotional intelligence".

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