Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria October 20, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan chaired a cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss expelling ambassadors from the United States and nine other allies, a move which would open Ankara’s deepest diplomatic rift with the West during his 19 years in power.
Erdogan said at the weekend he had ordered the envoys to be declared persona non grata for seeking the release of prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala, detained for four years on charges of financing protests and involvement in an attempted coup.
The order has not yet been implemented by the Foreign Ministry but could be formally approved at Monday’s meeting.
The 10 ambassadors represent NATO allies, trade partners and members of the European Union, which Turkey still aspires to join despite widening differences with the bloc in recent years.
“The whole situation is a serious matter but we understand that the concerned countries have not yet been notified about any action,” said a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU executive.
The diplomatic crisis has added to investor concerns about Turkey’s economy after the central bank, under pressure from Erdogan to support growth, unexpectedly slashed interest rates by 200 points last week despite inflation rising to nearly 20%.
The lira hit a new all-time low of 9.85 to the U.S. dollar, partly in response to the fresh tensions, and has lost almost a quarter of its value so far this year.
The envoys – from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States – called last week for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”.
They were summoned by the foreign ministry last week.
Parliament speaker Mustafa Sentop said Turkey’s constitution banned discussion of ongoing court cases, including by Turkish politicians in parliament, and that the envoys’ statement marked a “clear and disrespectful” interference.
“Those who are evaluating the stance our president has put forth on this issue as an unprecedented one must see…that the impudence shown by the ambassadors is also unprecedented,” he told a forum in the northwestern province of Tekirdag.
Several embassies including the United States, Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand said on Monday they abided by the diplomatic convention not to interfere in a host country’s internal affairs.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it had not received any notification from Erdogan that its envoy would be expelled, and that it had been in contact with France and the United States over the weekend.
Kavala, a businessman and contributor to civil society groups, is charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has been held in detention while his trial continues, and denies the charges.
Rights groups say 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.
Erdogan was quoted on Thursday as saying the ambassadors in question would not release “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in their own countries.
The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala’s immediate release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence, and finding that his detention had been intended to silence him.