Turkey’s new daily COVID-19 cases exceed 40,000, highest level yet – ministry

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey recorded 40,806 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Thursday, the highest level since the beginning of the pandemic.

Cases have surged since the government eased measures to curb the pandemic in early March.

On Monday, President Tayyip Erdogan announced a tightening of measures, including the return of full nationwide weekend lockdowns for the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on April 13.

The total number of cases stands at 3.358 million, the data showed. The latest daily death toll was 176, bringing the cumulative toll to 31,713.

(Reporting by Daren Butler;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Turkey’s reopening relieves restaurants but worries doctors

By Canan Sevgili and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish restaurants reopened and many children returned to school on Tuesday after the government announced steps to ease COVID-19 restrictions even as cases edged higher, raising concerns among the top medical association.

On Monday evening, President Tayyip Erdogan lifted weekend lockdowns in low- and medium-risk cities and limited lockdowns to Sundays in those deemed higher risk under what he called a “controlled normalization.”

Café and restaurant owners, limited to takeaway service for much of last year, have long urged a reopening of in-house dining after sector revenues dropped 65%. They also want relief from growing debt, and from social security and tax payments.

“We were serving 4,000-5,000 people a week. Now with takeaway services we are serving only 500 people,” Istanbul-based Pideban restaurant owner Yusuf Kaptanoglu said before the easing measures were announced.

“I did not benefit from any support including loan support,” he said.

Across Turkey, pre- and primary schools as well as grades 8-12 resumed partial in-person education.

Yet the moves come as new daily coronavirus cases rose to 11,837 on Tuesday, the highest since Jan. 7 and up from 9,891 a day earlier, according to official data. Cases were around 6,000 in late January.

“The number of mutant virus cases is increasingly rising. We do not see conditions to return to an old ‘normal’,” the Turkish Medical Association said on Twitter, calling for higher rates of testing and inoculation.

“Political and economic interests must not take precedence over human life and science,” it added.

Turkey, with a population of 83 million, has administered 9.18 million vaccines in a campaign that began in mid-January. More than 7.18 million people have received a first shot and 2 million have received a second.

(Reporting by Daren Butler, Canan Sevgili and Ceyda Caglayan; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Aurora Ellis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Turkey’s Erdogan urges Saudis to say who ordered Khashoggi’s killing

A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia on Friday to disclose who ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, as well as the location of his body, heightening international pressure on the kingdom to come clean on the case.

Erdogan said Turkey had more information than it had shared so far about the killing of Khashoggi, a prominent U.S.-based critic of powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that has pitched the world’s top oil exporter and pivotal Middle East strategic partner of the West into a serious crisis.

The kingdom, Erdogan added, also must reveal the identity of the “local cooperator” whom Saudi officials earlier said had taken charge of Khashoggi’s body from Saudi agents after his killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was premeditated, reversing a previous official statement that it happened accidentally during a tussle in the consulate.

The kingdom’s shifting explanations of what happened to Khashoggi when he entered the consulate to get papers for his divorce have stirred scepticism and calls for Saudi transparency to determine who was ultimately responsible for the murder.

“Who gave this order?” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his AK Party in Ankara. “Who gave the order for 15 people to come to Turkey?” he said, referring to a 15-man Saudi security team Turkey said flew into Istanbul hours before the killing.

Saudi officials initially denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the consulate, before announcing that an internal inquiry suggested he was killed by mistake in a botched operation to return him to the kingdom.

Riyadh says 18 people have been arrested and five senior government officials have been sacked as part of the investigation. Prince Mohammed, Riyadh’s de facto ruler who casts himself as a reformer, has said the killers will be brought to justice.

Erdogan said he had spoken with Prince Mohammed. “I also told the crown prince. I said, ‘You know how to make people talk. Whatever happened between these 18 people, this dodgy business is among them. If you are determined to lift suspicion, then the key point of our cooperation is these 18 people.'”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey October 26, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey October 26, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

WEST MULLS REPERCUSSIONS

How Western allies deal with Riyadh will hinge on the extent to which they believe responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lies directly with Prince Mohammed and the Saudi authorities.

The stakes are high. Saudi Arabia is the lynchpin of a U.S.-backed regional alliance against Iran but the outcry over the murder has strained Riyadh’s relations with the West. Dozens of Western officials, bankers and executives boycotted a major investment conference in Riyadh this week.

Erdogan also said Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor was due in Istanbul on Sunday to meets its regional chief prosecutor.

“Of course, we have other information; documents, but there is no need to be too hasty,” said Erdogan, who previously described Khashoggi’s demise as a “savage killing” and demanded Riyadh punish those responsible, no matter how highly placed.

On Thursday, Saudi state television quoted the Saudi public prosecutor as saying the killing had been planned in advance and that suspects were being interrogated on the basis of information provided by a joint Saudi-Turkish task force.

Turkish officials suspect Saudi security agents killed Khashoggi, 59, inside the consulate and dismembered his body. Turkish sources say authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the murder.

Pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, citing the audio, reported that Saudi agents cut off his fingers during an interrogation and later beheaded him.

U.S. CIA Director Gina Haspel heard an audio of the killing during a visit to Turkey this week, sources told Reuters, and she briefed President Donald Trump about Turkey’s findings and her discussions after her return to Washington on Thursday.

It remains unclear what can be heard in the audio. Officials from the CIA and Turkish intelligence declined to comment.

However, a European security source who was briefed by people who listened to the audio said of the recording: “There was an argument at the beginning, they insulted each other, it then developed. (Saudis said) ‘Let’s give a lesson to him’.”

Among various versions of what happened to Khashoggi given by Riyadh, Saudi officials had said the columnist was either killed in a fight inside the consulate or died in a chokehold when he resisted being drugged and abducted.

Khashoggi did not appear to believe he was going to die, the European security source said.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said on Friday that Russia has no reason to doubt the statements of the Saudi king and crown prince that the royal family was not involved in the murder.

Saudi King Salman assured Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Thursday that Saudi authorities were resolved to hold the guilty parties accountable and ensure “they receive their punishment”, the official Saudi press agency SPA said.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Exclusive: Trump vows ‘no concessions’ with Turkey over detained U.S. pastor

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday ruled out agreeing to any demands from Turkey to gain the release of a detained American pastor and said he was not concerned that his tough stance could end up hurting European and emerging market economies.

In a wide-ranging Oval Office interview with Reuters, Trump complained about interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve and suggested he was having second thoughts about Jerome Powell, his choice for Fed chair. He also said he “most likely” will have a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and indicated he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia if Moscow took some actions in return.

Trump said he thought he had a deal with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen. He had thought Erdogan would then release pastor Andrew Brunson, who denies Turkey’s allegations that he was involved in a plot against Erdogan two years ago.

“I think it’s very sad what Turkey is doing. I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” he said.

Turkey has demanded that the United States hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric in the United States suspected in the coup plot against Erdogan, but the United States has balked at this.

Trump has imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum in response to Erdogan’s refusal to free Brunson, raising concerns of economic damage in Europe and in emerging market economies.

“I’m not concerned at all. I’m not concerned. This is the proper thing to do,” he said, when asked about the potential damage to other economies.

Trump said Erdogan had wanted the Turkish citizen returned from Israel.

Trump and Erdogan met in Brussels for a NATO summit in mid-July where they discussed Brunson’s case and what could be the way forward to release the pastor, a senior White House official said earlier.

Turkey had sought U.S. help to persuade the Israelis to release a Turkish woman who was being held in Israel, the senior official said. In exchange, Turkey would release Brunson and other Americans being held in Turkey.

Trump said he kept his side of the bargain.

“I got that person out for him. I expect him to let this very innocent and wonderful man and great father and great Christian out of Turkey,” Trump said.

The dispute threatens to intensify a split between the United States and Turkey, a key NATO ally that plans to buy Russian missiles.

Israel, which confirmed that Trump had requested Ebru Ozkan’s release, deported her on July 15. Ankara has denied ever agreeing to free Brunson in return.

Trump added: “I like Turkey. I like the people of Turkey very much. Until now I had a very good relationship as you know with the president. I got along with him great. I had a very good relationship. But it can’t be a one-way street. It’s no longer a one-way street for the United States.”

PUTIN, TRUMP MEETING

Trump drew a barrage of criticism at home and abroad after he stood side by side with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a July 16 summit in Helsinki and cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.

In the Reuters interview, he ticked off areas that he discussed privately with Putin, including security for Israel, Syria and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany that will supply natural gas to Germany.

Trump said Putin did not raise with him the issue of U.S. sanctions on Russia but that he would consider lifting them if Russia took steps on such areas as Syria or Ukraine.

“I would consider it if they do something that would be good for us. But I wouldn’t consider it without that,” he said.

Turning to Iran, Trump showed little interest in meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program after earlier this month expressing a willingness to do so.

The Iranians, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have dismissed the offer. Trump said it did not matter to him whether he met Iran’s leaders and that there had been no U.S. outreach toward Iran to discuss talks.

Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers earlier this year has raised tensions between Washington and Tehran.

“If they want to meet that’s fine, and if they don’t want to meet, I couldn’t care less,” he said.

Trump cast doubt on whether he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping during an international Asia-Pacific summit in Papua New Guinea in November. Trump again talked up the warmth of his relationship with Xi, but said little progress has been made on his drive to rebalance the U.S.-Chinese trade relationship.

“Maybe. I’m not sure that it’s been set up yet. We’ll see,” he said, when asked about a possible meeting with Xi.

He also said he had “no time frame” for resolving his administration’s trade dispute with China.

“I’m like them, I have a long horizon,” he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and James Oliphant in Washington; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Ross Colvin and James Dalgleish)

Turkey says will drive Kurdish YPG from Syrian border area if no deal with U.S.

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the south eastern city of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will drive the Kurdish YPG militia away from the Syrian border if it does not reach agreement with the United States on a plan to remove the group from Syria’s Manbij region, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

“If this plan is not realised, the only option left will be clearing away terrorists. This is not just valid for Syria, but also for Iraq,” he said in interview with state-run Anadolu news agency.

He added that President Tayyip Erdogan and President Donald Trump will speak by telephone on Thursday.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan)

Saudi prince says Turkey part of ‘triangle of evil’: Egyptian media

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 24, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has described Turkey as part of a “triangle of evil” along with Iran and hardline Islamist groups, Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The Saudi prince also accused Turkey of trying to reinstate the Islamic Caliphate, abolished nearly a century ago when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

His reported comments reflect Saudi Arabia’s deep suspicion of President Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling AK Party has its roots in Islamist politics and who has allied his country with Qatar in its dispute with Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states.

Turkey has also worked with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival in the Middle East, to try to reduce fighting in northern Syria in recent months, and Iranian and Turkish military chiefs exchanged visits last year.

Al-Shorouk quoted Prince Mohammed as saying “the contemporary triangle of evil comprises Iran, Turkey and extremist religious groups.”

The prince spoke to Egyptian newspaper editors during a visit to Cairo, on his first foreign trip since becoming heir to the oil exporting giant last year.

He said the dispute with Qatar could be long-lasting, comparing it to the U.S. embargo of Cuba imposed 60 years ago, but played down its impact, dismissing the Gulf emirate as “smaller than a Cairo street”.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar last June, suspending air and shipping routes with the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, which is home to the region’s biggest U.S. military base.

However, Prince Salman said Qatar would not be barred from attending an Arab summit hosted by Saudi Arabia later this month.

(Writing by Dominic Evans, Editing by William Maclean)

New Turkish party could cost Erdogan support, dislodge main opposition

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a conference in Ankara, Turkey, November 1, 2017.

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA(Reuters) – A new Turkish political party founded by a former minister and vocal critic of Tayyip Erdogan could cost the president crucial support and potentially unseat the main opposition, a poll suggested on Wednesday.

The survey by prominent polling firm Gezici showed that the Iyi Parti (“Good Party”), founded this month by the breakaway nationalist lawmaker Meral Aksener, could mark a dramatic shift in Turkish politics, eclipsing the secular CHP that dominated Turkish politics for large parts of the republic’s history.

While only five members of the 550-seat parliament have joined Aksener’s party, the survey suggested it could win over voters from several parties, including Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party as well as secular or nationalist groups.

Although Turkey’s next elections are not due until 2019, pollster Gezici asked 4,638 respondents how they would vote in the event of a snap election.

Support for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which has been in power since 2002, would fall to 43.8 percent, from 49.5 percent in the November 2015 parliamentary polls, the survey showed.

Aksener’s party would win 19.5 percent of the vote, beating the secularist People’s Republican Party’s (CHP) 18.5 percent, it showed. That would mark the first time since 2002 elections that the CHP – established by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – was not the main opposition.

The CHP won 25 percent of votes in 2015.

The nationalist MHP, where Aksener previously served as a lawmaker and interior minister, and the pro-Kurdish HDP were both seen falling below the 10 percent threshold needed to enter the 550-seat parliament.

The MHP was seen polling at 8.8 percent, from 11.9 in 2015. The HDP, whose leaders have been jailed in the crackdown that followed last year’s failed coup, was seen taking 7.0 percent, from 10.8 in 2015.

 

ERDOGAN CRITIC

Gezici was one of the most accurate pollsters on the results of April’s referendum to change the constitution.

The poll was conducted between Oct. 10-15, days before the widely expected announcement of the formation of the Iyi Parti. Respondents were asked to choose from a list of potential political parties, including “Aksener’s party”.

Aksener was expelled last year from the nationalist MHP, the smallest of three opposition parties in parliament, after launching a failed bid to unseat party leader Devlet Bahceli, whose support helped Erdogan to a narrow victory in the April referendum that expanded his authority.

Since her expulsion, the 61-year-old has become one of the most prominent voices in the country, frequently criticizing Erdogan and the government.

In the case of the Iyi Parti not participating in potential snap elections, the AKP would win just over 47 percent, while the CHP would earn 26.8 percent, the poll showed.

The AKP, founded by Erdogan, has held a majority in parliament for nearly 15 years. After winning almost 50 percent of votes in 2015, Erdogan and party officials said they aimed to win more than half the votes in the coming general elections.

 

 

(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Raissa Kasolowsky)

 

After military shake-up, Erdogan says Turkey to tackle Kurds in Syria

: Turkish army tanks drive towards to the border in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25,

By Dominic Evans and Orhan Coskun

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Days after a reshuffle of Turkey’s top military commanders, President Tayyip Erdogan has revived warnings of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State.

Kurdish militia are spearheading an assault against the hardline militants in their Syrian stronghold Raqqa, from where Islamic State has planned attacks around the world for the past three years.

But U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria has infuriated Turkey, which views their growing battlefield strength as a security threat due to a decades-old insurgency by the Kurdish PKK within in its borders.

There have been regular exchanges of rocket and artillery fire in recent weeks between Turkish forces and YPG fighters who control part of Syria’s northwestern border.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States, reinforced that section of the border at the weekend with artillery and tanks and Erdogan said Turkey was ready to take action.

“We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, referring to the YPG in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies.”

The YPG denies Turkish allegations of links with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule in Syria and warning that any Turkish assault will draw its fighters away from the battle against Islamic State which they are waging in an alliance with local Arab forces.

Erdogan’s comments follow the appointment of three new leaders of Turkey’s army, air force and navy last week – moves which analysts and officials said were at least partly aimed at preparing for any campaign against the YPG militia.

Turkish forces swept into north Syria last year to seize territory from Islamic State, while also cutting off Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria from the Kurdish pocket of Afrin further west. They thereby prevented Kurdish control over almost the whole sweep of the border – Ankara’s worst-case scenario.

Recent clashes have centered around the Arab towns of Tal Rifaat and Minnigh, near Afrin, which are held by the Kurdish YPG and allied fighters.

Erdogan said Turkey’s military incursion last year dealt a blow to “terrorist projects” in the region and promised further action. “We will make new and important moves soon,” he said.

 

“MORE ACTIVE” FIGHT

His comments follow weeks of warnings from Turkey of possible military action against the YPG.

Washington’s concern to prevent any confrontation which deflects the Kurdish forces attacking Raqqa may help stay Ankara’s hand, but a Turkish government source said last week’s changes in military leadership have prepared the ground.

“With this new structure, some steps will be taken to be more active in the struggle against terror,” the source said. “A structure that acts according to the realities of the region will be formed”.

The battle for Raqqa has been underway since June, and a senior U.S. official said on Friday that 2,000 Islamic State fighters are believed to be still defending positions and “fighting for every last block” in the city.

Even after the recapture of Raqqa, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has left open the possibility of longer-term American assistance to the YPG.

The influence of Turkey’s once-dominant military has decreased dramatically since Erdogan came to power nearly 15 years ago. A purge in senior ranks since last year’s failed military coup has stripped it of 40 percent of top officers.

Last Wednesday’s appointments were issued by the Supreme Military Council, a body which despite its name is now dominated by politicians loyal to Erdogan.

“Of course the political will is behind these decisions, Erdogan’s preferences are behind them,” the source said. “But the restructuring of the Turkish Armed Forces and the demand for a more active fight against the PKK and Islamic State also has a role”.

Vacancies in senior military ranks resulting from the year-long purge would not be filled immediately, he said, but would be addressed over time.

While all three forces – air, land and sea – are under new command, focus has centered on the new army chief Yasar Guler. As head of Turkey’s gendarmerie, he was seen to take a tough line against the PKK and the movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen blamed by the government for the July 2016 coup attempt.

Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), said the YPG “remains at the epicenter of Turkey’s threat perception”.

Guler was well-placed to address Turkey’s “transnational counter-terrorism priorities” and lead the campaign against Kurdish forces because of his past roles as chief of military intelligence, head of gendarmerie and postings to NATO.

“There is an undeniable likelihood that Turkey’s new top military chain of command might have to lead a major campaign against the YPG,” Kasapoglu said.

Guler is now favorite to take over from the overall head of the Turkish armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, who is due to step down in two years.

“Guler gets on well with members of Erdogan’s AK Party and is known for his hardline performance against the PKK…and the Gulen movement,” said Metin Gurcan an independent security analyst and retired Turkish military officer who now writes a column for Al-Monitor news website.

For the president, who faces a re-election campaign in 2019, a smooth succession from Akar to Guler would avoid any military upheaval which could send his plans off-course, Gurcan said.

“Until 2023, Erdogan should have smooth sailing without disruption from the Turkish armed forces.”

 

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Dirimcan Barut in Ankara; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

 

Turkish journalists go on trial accused of supporting terrorism

Journalists and press freedom activists release balloons during a demonstration in solidarity with the members of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet who were accused of supporting a terrorist group outside a courthouse, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 24, 2017.

By Can Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Prominent journalists and other staff at a Turkish opposition newspaper went on trial on Monday accused of supporting a terrorist group, in a case that critics of President Tayyip Erdogan consider attack on free speech.

“Journalism is not a crime,” chanted several hundred people gathered outside the central Istanbul court to protest against the prosecution of 17 writers, executives and lawyers of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The trial coincides with an escalating dispute with Germany over the arrest in Turkey of 10 rights activists, including one German, as part of a crackdown since last year’s attempted coup against Erdogan.

Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for newspaper staff accused of targeting Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods”.

“I am not here because I knowingly and willingly helped a terrorist organisation, but because I am an independent, questioning and critical journalist,” one of the defendants, columnist Kadri Gursel, told the court.

Gursel, who, along with editor Murat Sabuncu and other senior staff, has been in pre-trial detention for 267 days, was prevented from hugging his son in the courtroom by security guards, the newspaper said on its website.

The 324-page indictment alleges Cumhuriyet was effectively taken over by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the failed putsch last July, and used to “veil the actions of terrorist groups”.

Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup.

The newspaper is also accused of writing stories that serve “separatist manipulation”.

Other defendants include Ahmet Sik, who once wrote a book critical of Gulen’s movement. Former editor Can Dundar, who is living in Germany, is being tried in absentia.

The newspaper has called the charges “imaginary accusations and slander”. Social media posts comprised the bulk of evidence in the indictment, along with allegations that staff had been in contact with users of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by Gulen’s followers.

 

‘DE FACTO COALITION’

“According to the government, everyone in opposition is a terrorist, the only non-terrorists are themselves,” Filiz Kerestecioglu, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish HDP opposition party, told reporters ahead of the trial.

Gursel, the columnist, denied he had links to Gulen’s movement, saying he had in the past revealed ties between Erdogan’s AK Party and the Gulen movement.

Erdogan has his roots in political Islam and was an ally of the cleric until a public falling-out in 2013.

“I exposed the current government’s de facto coalition with this group and I foresaw the harm that this sinister cooperation would do to the country,” he told the court.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have complained of deteriorating human rights under Erdogan. In the crackdown since last July’s failed coup, 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial and some 150,000 detained or dismissed from their jobs.

As part of the purge some 150 media outlets have been shut down and around 160 journalists are in jail, according to the Turkish Journalists’ Association.

The crackdown has strained Turkey’s ties with the European Union, but reaction from the bloc has been restrained because it depends on Turkey to curb the flow of migrants into Europe.

Europe’s leading power, Germany, has stepped up pressure in recent days, threatening measures that could hinder German investment in Turkey and reviewing Turkish applications for arms deals.

Turkish authorities say the crackdown is justified by the gravity of the coup attempt, in which rogue soldiers tried to overthrow the government and Erdogan, killing 250 people, most of them civilians.

 

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

Turkey warns Greek Cypriots, oil companies against offshore energy grab

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, July 10, 2017.

By Ece Toksabay and David Dolan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey warned Greek Cypriots on Friday not to make a grab for energy reserves around the divided island and President Tayyip Erdogan told oil companies to be careful they did not lose a “friend” by joining in.

Talks to reunite the ethnic Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus collapsed in anger and recrimination in the early hours of Friday, ending a process many saw as the most promising in generations to heal decades of conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking at an energy conference in Istanbul, called on Greek Cypriots to refrain from taking “one-sided measures” after talks failed.

It was a clear reference to plans by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government to exploit potential hydrocarbon deposits around the Mediterranean island.

The government has already issues a maritime advisory for a natural gas drill from July to October.

“We want to remind once again that the hydrocarbon resources around Cyprus belongs to both sides,” Yildirim said.

“The Greek Cypriot leadership must seek a constructive approach rather than setting an obstacle for peace. We advise that they refrain from unilateral measures in the east Mediterranean.”

Erdogan, speaking later at the same conference, went further, with a not-very-veiled threat to oil companies who may be tempted to participate in the Greek Cypriots’ plans.

“It is impossible to appreciate that some energy companies are acting with, and becoming part of some irresponsible measures taken by, Greek Cypriots,” Erdogan said. “I want to remind them that they could lose a friend like Turkey.”

 

NEW TENSIONS

Greek Cypriots say it is its sovereign right to explore for hydrocarbons, and it has signed maritime delimitation agreements with most of its neighbors.

Asked on Sunday if there was any pressure on Cyprus regarding the drilling schedule, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said: “Nothing (pressure) is being applied, nor will there be a postponement.”

A number of energy companies have already beaten a path to the island.

Italy’s ENI, ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Korea’s KOGAS have won offshore exploration licenses

A drilling ship contracted by Total, the West Capella, is already heading for Cyprus.

“What we expect from anyone who takes sides in the developments in Cyprus is that they should refrain from steps that might pave the way for new tensions in the region,” Erdogan said.

Asked by Reuters at the petroleum conference whether the company was worried that drilling could alienate Turkey, Arnaud Breuillac, Total’s president of exploration and production, said the company had “no concerns”.

The issue has risen to the fore again because of the failure of the latest round of reunification talks, which were started in part to try to solve the energy issue.

A week of United Nations-mediated talks in the Swiss Alps culminated in a “yelling and drama” session, leaving the conflict unresolved.

Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived estranged since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek- inspired coup.

Turkey has 30,000 troops stationed in northern Cyprus and their status in any post-settlement peace deal proved to be the undoing of a process one diplomat lamented came “so, so close” to succeeding.

Cyprus talks have collapsed before, most spectacularly in 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. reunification blueprint in a referendum while Turkish Cypriots backed it. It took several years for the United Nations to re-engage.

 

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Written by Jeremy Gaunt and David Dolan; Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Athens; Editing by Larry King)