Wednesday

23rd May 2018

EU fears Turkey crackdown could 'destroy' relations

  • Hahn: Erdogan's crackdown looked "like something that had been prepared" (Photo: Reuters)

EU ministers and officials have urged Turkey’s leader to respect the law in his handling of an apparent coup that cost almost 300 lives over the weekend.

Austria’s EU commissioner, Johannes Hahn, on Monday (17 July) came close to saying that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew more than he has let on about the shocking events that unfolded on Friday.

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  • Kerry and Mogherini in Brussels on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

He told press in Brussels at the start of a foreign ministers’ meeting that Erdogan’s crackdown “is exactly what we feared”.

Referring to the Turkish leader’s arrest of thousands of judges on Saturday, he said it looked “like something that had been prepared. That the lists [of judges] are available after the events indicates that this [the crackdown] was prepared and that at a certain moment it should be used”.

The US secretary of state John Kerry, who is attending the EU meeting, and German foreign minister Fank-Walter Steinmeier, declined to comment on Monday.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, “condemned” the “putsch”, but warned Erdogan of becoming even more “authoritarian”.

“We must be vigilant that Turkish authorities don’t put in place a political system which turns against democracy”, he said.

The new British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said “it’s important to show restraint”.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said the ministers would discuss events in Turkey as the first point on their agenda on Monday. She said their joint statement would call on Erdogan to maintain its system of democratic “checks and balances”.

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders said: “My message today [to Turkey] is that now is not the time to create more divisions [in Turkish society] but to unite on the basis of rule of law”.

Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said he “can’t imagine” that Turkey could ever become an EU member if Erdogan jailed judges or reinstated the death penalty.

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn said there was a danger that Turkey-EU relations could be “destroyed” if Erdogan goes too far.

“It’s very important to show, for the sake of European interests and for Turkey’s interests, that relations between the EU and Turkey are not destroyed”, he said.

Death penalty?

The comments come after parts of the Turkish military tried to seize control of Ankara and Istanbul with tanks, jets, and armed men on the streets.

The apparent coup attempt failed after pro-Erdogan supporters took to the streets to confront the soldiers and after pro-Erdogan military units took action, in events which cost, according to Turkish authorities on Monday, 290 lives.

Turkish military officers, who requested anonymity, also told the Reuters news agency that two rebel F-16 jets had Erdogan’s plane in their gunsights in the small hours of Saturday.

"Why they didn't fire is a mystery," one of the three Reuters contacts said.

Isolated clashes continued on Sunday, amid reports that pro-Erdogan authorities had detained more than 6,000 people, including 3,000 judges and prosecutors.

When a pro-Erdogan crowd in Istanbul the same day called for the reinstatement of the death penalty, the Turkish leader said: "In a democracy, whatever the people want they will get. We cannot ignore this demand.

We will not delay this decision for long. Because those who attempt a coup in this country must pay."

Erdogan has blamed Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Islamic teacher who lives in exile in the US, for plotting his downfall, and has called for America to extradite him to Turkey.

But Gulen has said that Erdogan staged the events in order to seize absolute power.

Turkey is in talks to become and EU member and has pledged to stop migrants going en masse to Europe in return for political support and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals.

It is also a Nato member with the second largest number of soldiers in the alliance after the US.

The EU meeting on Monday will also discuss the attack in Nice, France, that claimed 90 lives on Friday evening.

The EU ministers will talk with Kerry about the war in Syria, the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group, the situation in Libya, Russia relations and the war in Ukraine, and the Middle East Peace Process.

They will also discuss EU-China relations and the food crisis in Venezuela.

Johnson’s EU debut

Meanwhile, Monday’s meeting will be the first time that the UK’s Johnson, who campaigned fiercely for Britain to leave the Union, meets his EU counterparts.

He told media on Monday that leaving the EU “does not mean in any way that we are leaving Europe” in terms of foreign policy and security cooperation.

He said the events in Turkey and Nice showed “the importance of that” and referred to the other 27 EU ministers as his “friends” and “colleagues”.

Mogherini, who had dinner with Johnson on Sunday, said “our joint work continues” and spoke of Johnson going to “join the EU family” in Monday’s talks.

France’s Ayrault said he had had a “frank but useful” phone call with Johnson on Saturday.

He said Franco-Britsh relations remained “exceptional” in terms of cooperation on defence and on the migration crisis.

He also urged the UK to begin its EU exit negations as soon as possible.

Johnson, at one point in the Brexit campaign, compared the EU to Nazi Germany in terms of trying to snatch control of Europe from sovereign states.

“We’ll meet later today and we’ll see if he still thinks the same”, the Dutch minister, Koenders, said.

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