Hungary weighs Turkish request to shut 'coup-linked institutions'

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary is considering a request from Turkey to shut local institutions Ankara suspects of having links to what it calls the terrorist group behind last month’s thwarted coup attempt, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

More than 60,000 people in the Turkish military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation following the July 15 coup attempt that President Tayyip Erdogan has blamed on U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his wide network of schools and businesses.

The purge has prompted fears among Western allies and rights groups that Erdogan is using the events to crack down on dissent. Turkey has issued an arrest warrant for Gulen, who denies any role in the failed putsch.

Gulen’s “Hizmet” (Service) movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries, teaching a secular curriculum in English. Ankara suspects these schools and other Gulen-linked businesses help fund the movement.

Kazakhstan announced earlier on Friday it would expel any Turkish teachers there found to have links with Gulen. Somalia has closed two Gulen schools and a hospital and Turkish pressure to shut down Gulen-affiliated institutions has been reported from countries as diverse as Germany, Kenya and Indonesia.

Hungary’s foreign ministry said Turkey had requested the closure of “some institutions and organizations operating in Hungary which it says are linked with and provide intellectual and financial support to the terrorist organization potentially associated with the coup attempt”.

“Hungarian authorities will take measures against the institutions in question only if any connection between the institutions and terrorism is proved unequivocally,” it said.

The ministry statement, emailed to Reuters, did not identify the institutions involved. Officials at the Turkish embassy in Budapest were not immediately available for comment.

Hungarian news portal reported the target could be the Orchidea International private school in Budapest.

Orchidea Assistant Principal Balazs Orosz told Reuters that the school, which has two units in Budapest, had not been approached by either the Hungarian or the Turkish government.

Orosz said the two units, which have about 500 pupils, were financed from Hungarian public funds and fees paid by parents.

“Our only link with Turkey is that there are Turkish colleagues in the board of trustees of the foundation managing the school and there are a handful of Turkish pupils in our two units,” he said.

Efkan Unlu, a representative of the Prizma foundation that runs the school, denied to Reuters that the foundation or the Orchidea school had any links to Gulen.

“There are four Turkish teachers among the roughly 50 teachers in our school. They are not members of any political organization,” Unlu said.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than; Editing by Tom Heneghan