Turkey increases pressure on U.S. over extraditing cleric

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ISTANBUL – Turkey’s top diplomat on Friday told the United States that it should extradite an exiled cleric it has linked to last week’s coup attempt as soon as possible – a sensitive issue that risks causing serious tension between the two allies.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state TV TRT Haber that Turkey was ready to take part in a commission proposed by the U.S. to discuss the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, but there was no need for it to take a long time.

“If you want to draw out the Gulen extradition issue it can take years but if you are decisive it can be completed in a short period,” he said in remarks carried by Reuters.

Following a failed July 15 coup by renegade military units, Turkey has carried out a widespread crackdown on the army, police, judiciary and educational institutions, arresting, firing and suspending tens of thousands of people.

The government maintains that followers of Gulen, who resides in Pennsylvania, were behind the coup and has demanded his extradition.

The U.S. has insisted it would need clear evidence of the cleric’s involvement.

For his part, Gulen has denied any link to the plot, implying instead that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan staged it as part of a bid to consolidate power.

The president, meanwhile, called on Turks to continue nightly protests a week after the coup, calling it an “antidote” to the coup.

“I am requesting my heroic nation, which thwarted the armed coup attempt with its foresight and courage, to continue the democracy watch on the streets until our country gets out of this difficult situation for good,” he said late Thursday.

In a sign of the continuing tensions on the street, protesters surrounded a military base in Ankara with trucks and a bulldozer, possibly over fears of further military moves.

The president added that more than 10,000 people have been detained so far. In an earlier speech he emphasized the need for a “cleansing” of society and the existence of a “virus” in the military.

On Thursday, one of Turkey’s most prominent human rights defenders, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, was detained at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and later transferred to a local police station.

Earlier, Turkey declared a temporary suspension of a European-drafted rights pact that covers issues such as detention and searches.

Lawmakers passed the state-of-emergency motion by a comfortable majority Thursday, giving Turkey’s Cabinet the ability to rule by decree for at least the next three months. The decrees can be overruled by parliament but are not subject to review by Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

The hard-line moves contrasted sharply with an effort by Turkish officials to reassure the country that the post-coup upheavals would not harm the economy or cause permanent harm to Turkey’s relations with the West.

But worries have been growing from Turkey’s NATO allies and others. Turkey is a critical front-line partner in the fight against the Islamic State and efforts to control the flow of migrants into Europe. There also is concern that Turkish society and freedoms could come under much tighter control amid the purges and probes following last week’s unsuccessful coup.

After a military coup in 1980, martial law was imposed in Turkey. And Turkey imposed emergency rule over its restive Kurdish regions in the southeast in 1987, lifting it 15 years later.

But it has never done so for the entire country. Emergency rule grants authorities special powers to use the military and other security services to break up demonstrations and other public gatherings.

Western leaders have been increasingly uncomfortable with the crackdown.

In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Turkey’s allies will be “closely watching” Erdogan’s next moves.

“We are going to continue to urge them to protect the kinds of democratic traditions and institutions that helped them repel the coup in the first place and are critical to Turkey’s success in the future,” Earnest told reporters.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Hugh Naylor