Turkey’s Erdogan wants US, French ambassadors declared ‘persona non grata’

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he had ordered the foreign ministry to declare 10 ambassadors from Western countries "persona non grata" for calling for the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Expelling the 10 ambassadors, seven of whom represent governments from Turkey's NATO allies, would mark the deepest diplomatic rift with the West during Erdogan's 19 years in power.

Kavala has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has remained in detention while his trial continues, and denies the charges.

In a joint statement on October 18, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala's case, and for his "urgent release". They were summoned by Turkey's foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.

"I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately," Erdogan said in a speech in the city of Eskisehir in northwest Turkey.

"They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave," he said to cheers from the crowd.

Several European countries and leaders were quick to react to Erdogan's statement.

Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands – whose envoys all signed the document – said late on Saturday they had received no official notification from Turkey.

"Our ambassador has not done anything that would justify the expulsion," Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman Trude Maseide told media in her home country, vowing to continue pressing Turkey on human rights and democracy.

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod also said his ministry had not received any official notification regarding the issue and that it was in close contact with its friends and allies. "We will continue to guard our common values and principles, as also expressed in the joint declaration," he said in an emailed statement.

European Parliament President David Sassoli said on Twitter: "The expulsion of ten ambassadors is a sign of the authoritarian drift of the Turkish government. We will not be intimidated. Freedom for Osman Kavala."

The US, German and French embassies and the White House and US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kavala: 'Delivering my defence will be meaningless'

Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to the 2013 protests, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges in another case related to the coup attempt.

Rights groups say his case is emblematic of a crackdown on dissent under Erdogan.

On Friday, Kavala said that it would be "meaningless" for him to attend his trial as a fair hearing was impossible given recent comments by Erdogan.

Erdogan was cited on Thursday as saying the ambassadors in question would not release "bandits, murderers and terrorists" in their own countries.

"Since there is no possibility of a fair trial under these circumstances, I believe participating in hearings and delivering my defence will be meaningless from now on," Kavala said in a written statement.

The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala's immediate release in late 2019, saying there was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence, and finding that his detention had been intended to silence him.

It issued a similar ruling this year in the case of Selahattin Demirtas, former head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), who has been held in jail for nearly five years.

The Council of Europe, which oversees the implementation of ECHR decisions, has said it will begin infringement proceedings against Turkey if Kavala is not released.

The next hearing in the case against Kavala and others is due on November 26.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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