Thursday

23rd Feb 2017

EU-Turkey relations plunge to new low

  • Turkish police dragged HDP leaders from their homes in a midnight raid on Thursday (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey has jailed opposition MPs, accused Germany of sheltering terrorists, and threatened, once again, to scrap the EU migrant deal.

Police on Thursday (3 November) arrested 11 MPs from the liberal and pro-Kurdish HDP opposition party, including two of its co-chiefs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, who were dragged from their homes in the town of Diyarbakir in a midnight raid.

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The operation, which included a blackout of Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, came after police, on Monday, detained 13 senior staff from Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey's oldest newspapers.

The crackdown is part of a purge of alleged sympathisers with July’s failed coup and with Kurdish separatists.

Authorities have put 37,000 people behind bars, dismissed 100,000 from government posts, and shut down 170 media outlets.

They have also spoken of reinstating the death penalty - a move that would end Turkey’s EU membership bid.

“We are openly discussing the death penalty in the party and the government”, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told the Neue Zuercher Zeitung, a Swiss newspaper, on Thursday.

“President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has emphasised that he would ratify an adoption by parliament … if parliament agreed, he would not resist it”, Cavusoglu said.

Erdogan, at a rally in Ankara on Thursday, also accused Germany of sheltering “terrorists”, referring to pro-Kurdish groups and to supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic guru who lives in the US and whom Turkey says instigated the July putsch.

"We are concerned that Germany, which for years took the PKK and DHKP-C [Kurdish groups] under its wings, has become the backyard of Feto [a nickname for Gulen supporters]”, Erdogan said.

“Germany has become one of the most important countries in which terrorists find shelter”, he said.

Watch out Merkel

Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, in his Neue Zuercher Zeitung interview, threatened to scrap an EU deal under which Turkey stops migrants from going to Greece if Europe did not immediately lift visa requirements for Turkish nationals.

“Our patience is drawing to a close. We are waiting for an answer [on the visa pact] these days. If that does not come, we will cancel the agreement”, he said.

“We do not wait until the end of the year”, he added.

He said Turkey had fulfilled all but one of the EU’s 72 technical requirements, but he said it would not fulfil the last condition - to amend counter-terrorism laws so that they cannot be used to jail journalists and political opponents.

“In terror, I see no other possibilities. We can not make any concessions”, he said.

He said that if the migrant flow resumed, it would cost German chancellor Angela Merkel in terms of political support. “If ... they are going to Europe, Mrs Merkel is the most under pressure,” he said.

’Extremely worried’

The HDP arrests prompted EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini to call a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara on Friday.

She said she was “extremely worried” by the development.

Erdogan’s remarks also drew a rebuke from the German foreign minister.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier told press in Berlin on Thursday that he "cannot comprehend the comments made by Erdogan” on terrorism.

“Though we wish to have a close and constructive relationship with Turkey, let us not mince words. From our point of view, there are reasons to be concerned about threats to freedom of the press and freedom of opinion," he added.

German Green party leader, Cem Ozdemir, went further.

He told Passauer Neue Presse, a German newspaper, that the HDP arrests amounted to "a second coup" and that Erdogan had turned Turkey into a "big prison”.

Asli Erdogan, a Turkish novelist jailed for alleged links to Kurdish separatists, appealed for EU help in an open letter sent from her cell in the Bakirkoy Prison in Istanbul.

“I believe that a totalitarian regime in Turkey will unavoidably shake all of Europe”, she said. “Europe should assume its responsibility for the values it has defined … We need all your solidarity and support”, she said.

Economic cost

The anti-Gulen purge has extended to the business community.

Turkey has removed 116 employees from its banking regulator, 30 from its Capital Markets Board, and more than 1,500 people from its finance ministry.

It has also seized the assets of two large firms: Koza Ipek Holding, a minerals conglomerate, and Boydak Holding, a chemicals, steel, and energy group.

Ratings agencies, such as Moody’s and S&P, have cut the country’s investment grade. The Turkish lira has plunged in value and equity funds have pulled billions out of Turkish portfolios in the past few months, the Wall Street Journal, a US newspaper, reported on Friday.

“The risks are disproportionately high,” Michael Harris, the head of research at Renaissance Capital bank, which has advised its clients to dump Turkish investments, told the newspaper.

“A lot of foreign investors are understandably jittery”, he said.

EU and Erdogan try to defuse tensions

Top EU officials posed for friendly photos with Turkish president Erdogan in China, but the Turkish leader accused the West of "racist" attitudes toward refugees.

EU willing to keep contact with Turkey

The European Commission said it was "gravely concerned" by arrests of political leaders, but is not considering suspending accession talks.

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