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23rd Jan 2021

EU and US take different lines on Turkey crackdown

  • A police vehicle at Taksim Square, Istanbul after last week's failed coup (Photo: Reuters)

The EU has warned Turkey that its post-coup crackdown is “unacceptable”, but the US has described the actions, which include mass-scale detentions, as a “reasonable” response.

The EU foreign service, which speaks on behalf of all 28 member states, said in a statement on Thursday (21 July), that Turkey’s purge on academics, the army, the judiciary and media in the wake of last weekend’s events was “unacceptable”.

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  • Events claimed 246 lives, Erdogan said

It called on Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “respect” the “right of all individuals concerned to a fair trial” and to uphold “core fundamental rights” amid a new state of emergency that looks likely to stay in place for months on end.

It also said that “any temporary suspension of the European Convention of Human Rights needs to follow the rules foreseen for such a derogation”, but it did not elaborate what those rules were.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that “only provable involvement in illegal acts, not suspected political leanings, should trigger governmental action”.

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister, said: “We're worried that Turkey is now developing increasingly authoritarian traits … The coup attempt needs to be condemned but it's not a free licence for such actions”.

The harsh words come after Turkey detained or fired from their jobs more than 60,000 suspected coup sympathisers in the past week alone.

Erdogan has blamed the events on an Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the US, with the Turkish president describing the pro-Gulen movement in the country as a “cancer” and a “virus” in TV remarks.

The crackdown intensified on Wednesday when pro-Erdogan MPs backed a three-month state of emergency that allows the government to pass new laws by decree and to detain people without trial.

Turkey’s suspension of the human rights convention, also on Thursday, could pave the way to reinstating the death penalty in what would mean a definitive end to its EU membership bid.

A contact from one Gulen-linked NGO in Brussels said in an email to EUobserver: “I have been told by my relatives that civilians are … being tortured, they are denied to have a lawyer and even their family can’t see them, which means that basic human rights have been violated.

It is a desperate situation and I don’t know what can we do about this”.

The US has also urged Erdogan to respect human rights, but its criticism has been far less strident than that of Europe.

Speaking in Washington on Thursday at a meeting of the anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition, which coordinates air-strikes and other operations against the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq, US secretary of state John Kerry said only that Turkey had pledged that its coalition membership “will not be affected by the events that have happened”.

His spokesman, John Kirby, said the same day: “Turkey’s not just a friend, they’re a Nato ally … We take this relationship very seriously”.

He noted that “we can all understand that that kind of threat [the coup] needed to be taken seriously” and described the mass-scale arrests as a “reasonable” response.

“I’m not justifying every decision that they’re making and I’m not defending it, but I think it should be reasonable to anybody to understand that they would have to investigate and to look as widely as they feel they need to to try to get better information … about who was responsible”.

’Fresh blood’

Speaking to the Reuters news agency also on Thursday, Erdogan vowed to rebuild the military with loyal personnel.

“Within a very short amount of time a new structure will be emerging. With this new structure, I believe the armed forces will get fresh blood”, he said.

He referred to the Gulen movement as a “separatist terrorist organisation” and “traitors”, whom he vowed to hunt down “wherever they might be”.

He also said that a decision by the US-based S&P ratings agency to downgrade Turkey’s investment status meant that it had “sided with the coup, not with democracy”.

With the Turkish lira plunging and the cost of Turkish government borrowing soaring, he tried to reassure foreign investors by adding: “This state of emergency is not a curfew. People will still be on the street minding their own business and getting on with daily life”.

Investor fears

His deputy PM, Mehmet Simsek, added in separate remarks on the NTV broadcaster that: “There will be maximum sensitivity on economic freedom.”

"The state of emergency in Turkey won't include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press etc. It isn't martial law of 1990s," he later added on Twitter.

The crackdown comes after tanks, soldiers and jets appeared in Ankara and Istanbul last Friday and a military group issued a statement saying it had seized control in order to protect Turkey from Erdogan's authoritarian rule.

The soldiers later clashed with pro-Erdogan crowds, with Erdogan telling Reuters on Thursday that 246 people had lost their lives and that more than 2,000 had been wounded in the events.

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