Erdogan backs down on threat to expel Western envoys


Turkish president ‘welcomed’ statements by Western embassies – including the US – that they abide by a diplomatic convention not to interfere in a host country’s internal affairs


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday backed down from his threat to expel 10 Western ambassadors over their joint statement of support for a jailed civil society leader.

Erdogan said during the weekend he had ordered the envoys to be declared persona non grata for seeking the release of prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala, 64, detained for four years on charges of financing protests and involvement in an attempted coup.

He spoke after the United States and several of the other concerned countries issued identical statements saying they respected a UN convention that required diplomats not to interfere in the host country’s domestic affairs.

Erdogan said the new statement “shows they have taken a step back from the slander against our country”, adding: “They will be more careful now.”

The envoys from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the US called last week for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”.

The 10 ambassadors represent NATO allies, trade partners, and members of the European Union. Ankara is an EU candidate country, but membership talks have been practically frozen for years.

“The Turkish judiciary doesn’t take orders from anyone, and is not under anyone’s command,” Erdogan said in televised comments. “Our intention is absolutely not to create a crisis but to protect our law, honour, interests and our sovereign rights.”

Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications director, later warned Ankara would not refrain from taking further action.

“Our foreign ministry has already given the necessary response to these foreign missions and warned them about their unacceptable behaviour,” Altun said.

“Our government will not shy away from any further steps to show that we will never compromise our national sovereignty,” he added on Twitter.

The lira pulled back from a historic low and was trading up half a percent against the dollar on expectations Turkey’s president would announce a compromise solution in a television address later on Monday

Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, told Al Jazeera the foreign ministry was likely trying to find a way out of the crisis that kept Erdogan happy.

we will see more countries pulling their ambassadors from Turkey because there will be a drive to show solidarity with France and Germany from more EU countries,” he said.

The diplomats were interfering with Turkey’s judiciary, but the issue was not just about the Kavala case, it is also about Ankara refusing to implement a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision, Ulgen added.

The ECHR said in December 2019 there was no reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence and ruled his detention had been intended to silence him.

Kavala, a businessman and contributor to civil society groups, is jailed for allegedly financing nationwide protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed coup in 2016. His trial continues but he has denied the charges.

Rights groups have said his case is emblematic of a crackdown on dissent under Erdogan, and Kavala said on Friday he would no longer attend his trial, as a fair hearing was impossible after recent comments by the president.

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