ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s justice minister sent a document to the United States Tuesday seeking the arrest of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and whom Ankara accuses of instigating an attempted coup on July 15.
Bekir Bozdag sent a “second written document” requesting Gulen’s arrest, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. The minister said the second letter explained why there was an urgent need for the arrest.
Ankara has demanded Gulen’s extradition over the failed coup, which left 271 people dead. Washington has asked for evidence of the cleric’s involvement, saying the extradition process must take its course.
The Turkish government launched a sweeping crackdown on Gulen’s movement, which it characterizes as a terrorist organization and which runs schools, charities and businesses internationally. In Turkey, nearly 70,000 people have been suspended from their jobs on suspicion of being involved in the movement.
“They requested certain information following our first letter; we provided answers to the question ‘why is it urgent’,” Anadolu quoted Bozdag as telling reporters in parliament.
“We wrote to them that there are serious claims and statements that Fethullah Gulen has a finger in the attempted coup. That is why he needs to be detained urgently. (We wrote) that we have intelligence that he can escape to third countries,” Bozdag said.
“I hope that the United States decides in Turkey’s favor, in line with democracy and the rule of law, and returns this leader of a terror organization to Turkey.”
The minister said that if Gulen leaves the U.S. for another country, it would be with the full knowledge of U.S. authorities.
“If he escapes then the U.S. would either have turned a blind eye or approved of it,” Bozdag said.
Part of the crackdown against Gulen’s network has focused on reforming the military, bringing it increasingly under civilian command. About 18,000 people have been detained or arrested, most of them from the military, while authorities have said the purge of those suspected of links to Gulen in the military will continue.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced plans Tuesday to shut down two military high courts — the administrative and appeals courts — and said military courts, which deal with disciplinary issues, would be placed under the Defense Ministry’s supervision.
The government has already issued a decree introducing sweeping changes to the military, including giving the president and prime minister the power to issue direct orders to the force commanders.
“These arrangements won’t weaken the Turkish Armed Forces, on the contrary they will strengthen them and prepare them to face all kinds of threats,” Yildirim said in an address to his ruling party legislators. “The Armed Forces will focus their energies on their fundamental duty.”
Seperately, authorities issued 98 new detention warrants, including for military doctors, a senior government official said, on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Yildirim said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unyielding stance on the night of the coup had saved Turkey.
“Turkey came from the brink of a precipice,” Yildirim said. “Had (the coup) been successful, there would have been no constitution, no law, our parliament would have been shut and the political will eradicated. There would have been no trace of free press, freedom of expression.”
“Our state and people came back from the brink and It was our commander in chief, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unyielding stance that ensured it,” Yildirim said.
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