Prosecution in Israel lines up over 300 witnesses in Netanyahu case

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An indictment submitted to Israel’s parliament on Monday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu names more than 300 prosecution witnesses, including wealthy friends and former aides, in three graft cases against him.

By formally sending the indictment to the legislature, after announcing charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud on Nov. 21, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit set the clock ticking on a 30-day period in which Netanyahu can seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

Such protection seems unlikely, with Israeli politics in disarray after inconclusive elections in April and September and the failure of Netanyahu and his main challenger, Benny Gantz, to secure a ruling majority in the legislature.

Netanyahu, in office for the past decade, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is a victim of an attempted “coup” waged by legal authorities trying to unseat a popular right-wing leader.

As prime minister, he is under no legal obligation to resign after being charged. No date has been set for the opening of the trial, with three judges presiding in Jerusalem District Court.

The indictment submitted to parliament listed 333 witnesses for the prosecution. Legal experts said the long roster meant proceedings could go on for years.

They include U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, Australian billionaire James Packer and retired Israeli security chiefs, and several former aides who will be state witnesses against him.

Netanyahu poured scorn on the length of the witness list.

“When an accusation is true, you don’t need 333 witnesses,” he wrote on Twitter. “When the accusation is untrue, not even 333 witnesses will help.”

TALKS DEADLOCKED

In one case, Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully requesting and accepting expensive gifts, including champagne and cigars, from Milchan and Packer. Neither has been charged with any wrongdoing.

Another case focuses on allegations that Netanyahu promised the owner of Israel’s best-selling newspaper to push for regulations on its main competitor, owned by Adelson.

Netanyahu also is accused of granting regulatory favors worth about 1.8 billion shekels ($500 million) to Bezeq Telecom Israel <BEZQ.TA> in return for positive coverage on a website owned by its former chairman.

Talks between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party on a “national unity” government are deadlocked.

If no agreement is reached within 10 days – the end of a three-week period in which legislators can nominate a candidate to try to form a government – Israel is likely to hold a new election.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico
By Monica Machicao and Stefanie Eschenbacher

LA PAZ/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Bolivia’s former leader Evo Morales landed in Mexico on Tuesday pledging to stay in politics as security forces back home quelled unrest over the long-serving leftist’s resignation and opponents sought an interim replacement to fill a power vacuum.

Thanking Mexico’s government for “saving his life,” Morales arrived to take up asylum in the country and repeated his accusation that his rivals had ousted him in a coup after violence broke out following a disputed election last month.

“As long as I am alive, we will remain in politics,” Morales told reporters in brief comments after disembarking the plane to be met by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Dressed in a short-sleeved blue shirt, Morales defended his time in government and said that if he were guilty any crime, it was to be indigenous and “anti-imperalist.”

Morales was then whisked away in a military helicopter, television footage showed. Mexican officials have not said where he will stay, citing security concerns.

Morales arrived in a Mexican Air Force plane from the central Bolivian town of Chimore, a stronghold of Morales supporters where the country’s first indigenous president retreated as his 14-year rule imploded.

The departure of Morales, the last of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin American politics at the start of the century, came after the Organization of American States declared on Sunday that there were serious irregularities during the Oct. 20 vote, prompting ruling party allies to quit and the army to urge him to step down.

Opposition lawmakers wanted to formally accept Morales’ resignation and start planning for a temporary leader ahead of a new vote. But their plans looked at risk as Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) said it would boycott the meeting.

Residents of the highland capital La Paz, rocked by protests and looting since last month’s election, said they hoped politicians would succeed in finally restoring order.

“Democracy has been at risk and hopefully it will be resolved today,” said resident Isabel Nadia.

Morales’ flight out was far from simple.

Takeoff was delayed, with supporters surrounding the airport, then the plane was denied permission to fuel in Peru, Ebrard said. So it stopped instead in Paraguay before arriving in Mexico City just after 11 a.m. local time (1700 GMT).

“His life and integrity are safe,” Ebrard said, tweeting a photo of Morales alone in the jet with a downcast expression, displaying Mexico’s red, white and green flag across his lap.

In a region divided along ideological lines over Morales’ fall, Mexico’s leftist government has supported his accusations of a coup.

In La Paz, roadblocks were in place after soldiers and police patrolled into the night to stop fighting between rival political groups and looting that erupted after Morales’ resignation.

The charismatic 60-year-old former coca leaf farmer was beloved by the poor when he won power in 2006.

But he alienated some by insisting on seeking a fourth term, in defiance of term limits and a 2016 referendum in which Bolivians voted against him being allowed to do that.

(For graphic on timeline, see https://graphics.reuters.com/BOLIVIA-ELECTION/0100B30L25D/bolivia.jpg)

(Reporting by Monica Machicao, Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion, Daina Beth Solomon, Julia Love and Diego Ore in Mexico City, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis)

Turkish court rules to release U.S. pastor Brunson

Norine Brunson, wife of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, departs for her husband's court hearing in Izmir, Turkey October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Ezgi Erkoyun

ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Friday to release the U.S. evangelical Christian pastor at the center of a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, a move that could be the first step toward mending ties between the NATO allies.

The court passed a 3 years and 1-1/2 month sentence on Andrew Brunson, who had been charged with terrorism offences, but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.

Witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced. Before the judge’s ruling, the pastor told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”

The case against Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years and was arrested two years ago, had led to U.S. tariffs against Turkey and drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump.

Brunson was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.

Earlier, witnesses told the court that testimonies attributed to them against the pastor were inaccurate, heightening expectations that Brunson could be released and returned to the United States.

Brunson appeared in the courtroom in the western coastal town of Aliaga wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors’ seating area as he listened to testimony from defense and prosecution witnesses.

“I do not understand how this is related to me,” Brunson said after the judge questioned one of a series of witnesses. He said the judge was asking the witness about incidents Brunson was not involved in.

The lira was little changed on the day. It had firmed 3 percent on Thursday on expectations that he would be released. It stood at 5.910 at 1336 GMT.

(Adds dropped name in para 2.)

(Writing by Daren Butler and David Dolan; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dominic Evans)

U.S. official warns of more actions against Turkey if pastor not freed

FILE PHOTO: U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir, Turkey July 25, 2018. Picture taken July 25, 2018. Demiroren News Agency/DHA via REUTERS/File photo

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is warning more economic pressures may be in store for Turkey if it refuses to release a jailed American pastor, a White House official said on Tuesday, in a dispute that has further strained relations between the NATO allies.

The tough message emerged a day after White House national security adviser John Bolton met privately with Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic about the case of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. Bolton warned him that the United States would not give any ground, a senior U.S. official said.

The White House official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said “nothing has progressed” thus far on the Brunson case.

“The administration is going to stay extremely firm on this. The president is 100 percent committed to bringing Pastor Brunson home and if we do not see actions in the next few days or a week there could be further actions taken,” the official said.

Further actions would likely take the form of economic sanctions, the official said, who added: “The pressure is going to keep up if we’re not seeing results.”

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been soured by Brunson’s detention, as well as diverging interests on Syria. Trump doubled tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum last week, contributing to a precipitous fall in the lira.

The United States is also considering a fine against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank for allegedly helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Earlier this month, the United States imposed sanctions on two top officials in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet in an attempt to get Turkey to turn over Brunson.

Brunson is accused of backing a coup attempt against Turkish Erdogan two years ago, charges that he has denied. He is being tried on terrorism charges.

Brunson has appealed again to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish)

Turkish court keeps U.S. pastor in jail, Washington says deeply concerned

Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of the jailed pastor Andrew Brunson, talks to media in front of the Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal A

By Ezgi Erkoyun

ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) – A Turkish court decided on Wednesday to keep an American pastor in jail, dashing hopes that he could be released during his trial on terrorism and spying charges, a case that has deepened a rift with NATO ally Washington.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan, as well as supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.

Brunson, who denies the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

“It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children,” Brunson, wearing a black suit and a white shirt, told the court in Turkish.

“There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’s name.”

President Donald Trump has called for his release and the U.S. Senate passed a bill last month including a measure that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets because of Brunson’s imprisonment and Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

The U.S. envoy to Turkey said he was “disappointed” by the ruling by the court in the Aegean province of Izmir where Brunson had been living.

“Our government is deeply concerned about his status and the status of other American citizens and Turkish local employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission who have been detained under state of emergency rules,” Charge d’affaires Philip Kosnett told reporters outside the courtroom.

“We have great respect for both Turkey’s traditional role as a haven for people of faiths and Turkey’s legal traditions. We believe this case is out of step with these traditions,” he said.

NEW WITNESSES

Brunson was pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third-largest city, south of the Aegean town of Aliaga where he is now on trial.

His lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt had raised hopes that he could be released as the prosecution witnesses finish testifying.

Jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson's wife Norine Brunson leaves from Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

Jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson’s wife Norine Brunson leaves from Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

But Halavurt said on Wednesday the prosecution has added the testimonies of two new anonymous witnesses to the case and that the court will hold its next

hearing on October 12 to hear them and view new evidence.

Turkey’s lira weakened against the dollar immediately after the ruling, reflecting investor worries about tensions with the United States. It was nearly half a percent weaker on the day, at 4.8215 at 1234 GMT.

Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases that have raised tensions between Washington and Ankara. A U.S. judge sentenced a Turkish bank executive in May to 32 months in prison for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, while two locally employed U.S. consulate staff in Turkey have been detained.

The NATO allies are also at odds over U.S. policy in Syria, where Washington’s ally in the fight against Islamic State is a Kurdish militia Turkey says is an extension of the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.

Philip Kosnett, U.S. Charge d'affaires in Turkey, talks to media in front of the Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

Philip Kosnett, U.S. Charge d’affaires in Turkey, talks to media in front of the Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

The Turkish government says Brunson’s case will be decided by the courts. But Erdogan has previously linked his fate to that of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Turkey blames for the coup attempt and whose extradition Ankara seeks.

Gulen has denied having any link to the failed coup, in which at least 250 people were killed.

(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans, David Dolan and Andrew Heavens)

Turkey’s Erdogan says U.S. should look at its own actions if it wants jailed pastor freed

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 18, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said the United States should look at its own actions if it wants the return of an American Christian pastor who has been jailed in Turkey for suspected links to a 2016 failed coup.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS

Erdogan made the comment in a live interview with broadcaster NTV.

Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for the failed coup against Erdogan. He faces up to 35 years in prison. Brunson denies the charges.

Erdogan has previously linked Brunson’s fate to that of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric Turkey blames for the coup attempt. Gulen has lived in the United States since 1999 and denies the charges. Turkey is seeking his extradition from the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump and dozens of U.S. senators have urged Erdogan to release Brunson.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Turkey’s Erdogan declares early elections on June 24

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 18, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and David Dolan

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called a snap presidential and parliamentary election on June 24, more than a year earlier than planned, saying the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency.

Bringing the elections forward means that they will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since a July 2016 attempted coup and was extended by parliament on Wednesday for another three months.

In 15 years of rule as prime minister and later president, Erdogan has transformed a poor country at the eastern edge of Europe into a major emerging market. Yet Turkey’s rapid economic growth has also come with increased authoritarianism, as Erdogan has accelerated a crackdown on dissent since the failed coup.

Erdogan and his ministers had previously dismissed the prospect of early polls. Last year he narrowly won a referendum to change the constitution and create an executive presidency, which will come into effect with the next presidential vote.

He said Turkey’s military operations in neighboring Syria “and the developments in our region of historic importance, have made it mandatory to remove the election issue from our agenda”.

In a speech broadcast live on television he said it was also “urgent to switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country’s future in a stronger way…We came to the agreement that we should approach this early election positively.”

He said he made the decision after speaking to the head of the nationalist MHP party, Devlet Bahceli, who a day earlier had floated the prospect of an early election. The elections had been slated for November 2019.

Bahceli’s small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Erdogan’s AK Party in the parliamentary election.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

The main opposition CHP party called for an immediate end to the emergency, which allows Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms.

“There cannot be an election under emergency rule,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said. “The country needs to brought out of the emergency rule regime starting today.”

The United Nations last month called for an end to the emergency and accused Ankara of mass arrests, arbitrary sacking and other abuses. Some 160,000 people have been detained and a similar number of civil servants dismissed since the failed putsch, it said.

Media outlets have been shut down and scores of journalists have also been jailed.

Parliament last month passed a law revamping electoral regulations that the opposition has said could open the door to fraud and jeopardize the fairness of voting. The law grants the High Electoral Board the authority to merge electoral districts and move ballot boxes to other districts.

LIRA FIRMS

Turkey’s lira firmed against the dollar on Wednesday and was at 4.0189 at 1500 GMT. The yield on Turkey’s benchmark bond fell some 10 basis points and the main stock index jumped more than 2 percent.

Some investors had already been factoring in the prospect of early elections, citing the difficulty of the government keeping the economy going at its current breakneck pace – it expanded at 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter – until late next year.

The economy is likely to expand 4.1 percent this year, well short of the government’s target of 5.5 percent, a Reuters poll showed. Such a slowdown could hurt Erdogan, who has built much of his reputation on his stewardship of the economy, above all his record of delivering roads, hospitals and public services to millions of pious poor and middle-class people.

Investor concerns about double-digit inflation and Erdogan’s pressure on the central bank to keep rates down have sent the lira to a series of record lows. The currency’s sell-off may have figured in the call for early elections, some investors said.

“A continued depreciation of the currency would likely negatively impact voter behavior and may jeopardize Erdogan’s plans for victory,” said Paul Greer, a portfolio manager at Fidelity International in London.

“We read the early election announcement as a recognition from the government of a need for a tighter monetary and fiscal adjustment sooner rather than later.”

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, with additional reporting by Sujata Rao and Karin Strohecker in London; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

Turkey should again consider criminalizing adultery, Erdogan says

ILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan looks on ahead of a meeting at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey should again consider criminalizing adultery, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, revisiting an issue that caused outrage among secular Turks and warnings from the European Union when his party raised it more than a decade ago.

The Islamist-rooted AK Party floated the idea in 2004, two years after it first came to power, as part of a broad overhaul of the Turkish penal code. But the proposal caused a backlash from the secular opposition and EU officials said it could jeopardize Turkey’s efforts to join the union.

While Turkey is still technically a candidate to join the union, its accession talks were frozen in the wake of a widespread crackdown that followed a failed coup in 2016. In return, Erdogan has been angered by what he sees as EU stalling of the bid and has threatened to walk away from the talks.

“I think it would be very, very well-timed to again discuss the adultery issue, as our society is in a different position with regards to moral values,” Erdogan told reporters following a speech in parliament.

“This is a very old issue, far-reaching. It should be discussed. It was already in our legal proposals (in 2004) in the first place. At that time we took a step in accordance with the EU’s demands, but we made a mistake,” he said.

Erdogan’s comment that by meeting EU standards Turkey made a mistake underscores the growing divide between Ankara and Brussels and may not bode well for a coming summit with the bloc in March.

Turkey decriminalized adultery for women in the late 1990s. It had long been legal for men.

Erdogan, who is accused by critics of crushing democratic freedoms with tens of thousands of arrests and a clampdown on the media since the failed coup, has previously spoken of his desire to raise a “pious generation”.

He has spent his career fighting to bring religion back into public life in constitutionally secular Turkey and has cast himself as the liberator of millions of pious Turks whose rights and welfare were neglected by a secular elite.

Last year, the government announced a new school curriculum that excluded Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, feeding opposition fears that Erdogan was subverting the republic’s secular foundations.

A Reuters investigation last month showed that while students at religious schools make up only 11 percent of the total upper school population, they receive 23 percent of funding, double the spending per pupil at mainstream schools.

While European leaders have robustly criticized Turkey for what they see as rapid backsliding on democracy and human rights, especially the crackdown, Europe still relies on Turkey as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank.

Perhaps more immediately, European countries need Turkey to hold up its end of a deal to halt the mass influx of Syrian refugees into the bloc.

(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan and Hugh Lawson)

U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row

General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2016

By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States and Turkey lifted all visa restrictions on Thursday after Washington said Ankara had kept to assurances no further U.S. mission staff would be targeted for performing official duties, following detention of two earlier this year.

But Turkey swiftly denied having granted such assurances in the affair that has tested relations since the two local employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul were held on suspicion of ties to last year’s failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

The United States suspended visa services at its missions in Turkey in October and Turkey reciprocated. In November, Washington said it was resuming limited services upon getting assurances on the safety of its local staff.

“Based on adherence to these assurances, the Department of State is confident that the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the full resumption of visa services in Turkey,” the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said on Thursday.

It said the United States continued to have concerns about the two employees detained.

Turkey, while announcing the end of restrictions on the issue of visas to U.S. citizens, took issue with the U.S. declaration.

“We do not find it right for the United States to claim it had received assurances from Turkey and misinform the U.S. and Turkish publics,” the Turkish Embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Turkey’s lira firmed to 3.78 against the U.S. dollar after the statement, its highest level since Oct. 31, and the main share index BIST100 climbed 2.08 percent to reach its highest closing level ever.

Relations between the two NATO allies have become strained in the last year with Turkey angered by what it sees as the U.S. reluctance to hand over Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup attempt in July of 2016.

Turkey was further annoyed by U.S. military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK which has waged an insurgency for three decades in southeast Turkey.

More recently, Turkey took a leading role in the United Nations to pass a resolution denouncing a U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

(Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Turkish teachers linked to Erdogan foe detained in Afghanistan

Turkish teachers linked to Erdogan foe detained in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) – One Afghan and three Turkish teachers linked to an organization regarded with suspicion by the Turkish government were detained by Afghan intelligence officials on Tuesday, the organization’s head said.

The move against Afghan Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE), the body that runs the schools, appeared to be part of a Turkish campaign against followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric it accuses of being behind a coup attempt in July 2016 aimed at ousting President Tayyip Erdogan.

ATCE, which says it is an independent organization, runs schools in several cities including the capital, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat and has been in Afghanistan since 1995.

“Around 7 a.m., four of our teachers traveling in two different cars were picked up by (Afghan intelligence),” said Human Erdogan, the chairman of ATCE.

Other intelligence officials later went to the group’s girls’ school nearby looking for another teacher, he said.

He said the men presented themselves as members of the National Directorate of of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.

Neither the NDS nor the Afghan government immediately responded to requests for comment.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was on his way to Istanbul onTuesday to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)Summit.

In March, Afghanistan ordered the schools to be transferred to a foundation approved by Ankara.

Last year, shortly before a visit to Islamabad by the Turkish president, Pakistan ordered Turkish teachers at schools run by a body called PakTurk International Schools and Colleges to leave the country.

Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan who now lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, promotes a moderate form of Islam, supporting inter-faith communication and Western-style education and inspiring schools in different parts of the world.

He has denied any involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt.

(This version of the story fixes garbled wording in headline; text unchanged)

(Reporting by Girish Gupta in Kabul, and James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Balmforth)