Turkey evacuates consulate in Iraq's Basra

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey evacuated its consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Tuesday, less than a week after its mission in the northern city of Mosul was overrun by militants who seized diplomats, soldiers and children.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on his Twitter account that the Basra staff had been evacuated to Kuwait due to an increased security risk.

A foreign ministry official said the 18 staff, including the consul general, would return to Turkey. There were no plans to evacuate the embassy in Baghdad.

Insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other Sunni militants have swept through towns in the Tigris valley north of Baghdad in recent days.

The 49 Turks seized by the insurgents at the Mosul consulate last Wednesday are still being held, prompting criticism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government for failing to foresee the danger and evacuate them sooner.

Turkey has imposed a ban on media reporting about the seizure of its diplomats in Mosul on the grounds of protecting their safety, Ankara’s broadcasting authority said on Tuesday.

Erdogan, whose government imposed bans on Facebook and YouTube during a recent corruption scandal, is keen to avoid negative publicity ahead of a presidential election in August, in which he is expected to stand. Critics and rights groups have frequently accused Erdogan of seeking to cow the media, pointing to the high number of journalists in detention, pressure on editors to steer clear of coverage critical of the government, and the social media bans, which have since been lifted.

Erdogan has accused the opposition of trying to make political capital out of the Mosul events and said its comments on the subject risked the lives of those being held. The foreign ministry said on Saturday the group had no option but to surrender after hundreds of heavily armed militants surrounded the consulate building. The ISIL offensive threatens to dismember Iraq and leaves Turkey facing a widening Islamist insurgency in two of its southern neighbors, with ISIL also making territorial gains in Syria near the Turkish border.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on Monday for the immediate release of the Turks held in Mosul.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mark Trevelyan