Monday

22nd May 2017

Erdogan renews death penalty call

Turkey's president has renewed calls to reintroduce the death penalty amid a growing spat with Austria over EU membership.

Some 1 million people on Sunday (7 August) in Istanbul rallied in support of Turkey's government following last month's failed military coup.

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, told the so-called “democracy and martyrs” rally he would back capital punishment should the public and parliament approve it.

"It is the Turkish parliament that will decide on the death penalty... I declare it in advance, I will approve the decision made by the parliament," he said.

But this brings into doubt what a senior Turkish MP from the ruling government party told EUobserver last week, that the death penalty was not on the table.

"It is not on our agenda at the moment, it is not on the agenda of the parliament," said Sena Nur Celik, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during a visit to Brussels.

Celik said "emotions are very high" over the issue given the almost 240 people killed and over 2,000 injured during the July 15 coup attempt.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of a bid to join the European Union.

Any reintroduction would put an end to talks and further cloud a migrant swap deal signed with Ankara in March. Part of that deal included accelerating membership talks by opening Chapter 33 on budgetary issues.

Turkey's accession talks kicked off in 2005; but, only 1 of 35 chapters has so far been concluded.

The deal also promised to lift short stay visa restrictions on Turks should Ankara meet outstanding requirements imposed by the EU.

Death threats for Austria

But any prospect of Turkey's bid to become an EU member, regardless of Erdogan's death penalty, appears increasingly dim.

Austria's foreign minister Sebastian Kurz on Friday threatened to scupper expansion talks with Turkey.

"I have a seat and a vote in the [EU] foreign ministers' council. There the question is whether new negotiation chapters will be opened with Turkey, and I am against it," he said in an interview with Austrian daily Kurier.

Kurz also said the criteria for visa liberalisation "will not be fulfilled by Turkey."

Kurz's comments follows similar calls by Austria's chancellor Christian Kern.

The chancellor said he would start discussions among other EU states to put an end to accession talks, given the democratic rollback in Turkey.

Kern has since received death threats, reports AFP.

"Threats, even death threats, from the right wing and the radical part of the Turkish community have become reality for me,” he is quoted as saying in Osterreich daily.

Turkish foreign minster Mevlut Cavusoglu also shot back on Kern.

On Friday, he called Austria the "capital of radical racism", saying Kern should keep to his own affairs.

The purge in Turkey against people affiliated with the outlawed Fethullah Gulen group continues.

Turkey's government says Gulen, a Muslim cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1991, is the mastermind behind the coup, a charge he denies.

Some 70,000 people have so far been sacked, arrested or detained since mid-July.

Erdogan, for his part, has promised to drop lawsuits against some 2,000 people who had insulted him.

The move is seen by critics as part of a government-led effort to create a new narrative for Turkey with Erdogan at its centre.

Russian news agency TASS reports that Erdogan will visit St Petersburg, on Tuesday, to smooth over ties with the Russian government.

Erdogan said his planned visit will "mark new page in bilateral relations" between the two nations after Turkey downed a Russian jet fighter last November.

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