ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey said on Wednesday the European Union was fueled by anti-Turkish sentiment and hostility to President Tayyip Erdogan and was making grave mistakes in its response to a failed coup which was costing it the trust of ordinary Turks.
Erdogan and many Turks have been incensed by what they see as the undue concern of Europe over a crackdown after the abortive July 15 coup attempt but indifference to the bloody events themselves in which more than 240 people died.
“Unfortunately the EU is making some serious mistakes. They have failed the test following the coup attempt ... Their issue is anti-Turkey and anti-Erdogan sentiment,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the state-run Anadolu Agency.
“We have worked very hard towards EU (membership) these past 15 years. We never begged, but we worked very hard ... Now two out of three people are saying we should stop talks with the EU.”
More than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation since the coup attempt, in which rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and warplanes to try to take power.
Dismissals continued on Wednesday. State-run Anadolu Agency said a further 648 judges and prosecutors were suspended under the investigation, bringing to 3,489 the number of those removed from duty.
Turkey’s Scientific and Technological Research Council (Tubitak) has removed 560 staff, said private broadcaster NTV.
Thousands of people, waving Turkish flags, gathered outside the presidential palace in Ankara on Wednesday night to hear Erdogan call anew for the United States to extradite U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.
“Sooner or later the United States of America will make a choice. Either Turkey or FETO,” he told the crowd in a speech, using an abbreviation standing for the “Gulenist Terror Group” which is how Ankara refers to Gulen’s movement.
The speech was billed as the culmination of nightly rallies in cities across Turkey to show solidarity since the attempted coup.
Some of Turkey’s European allies are concerned that Erdogan, already seen as an authoritarian leader, is using the coup attempt as an excuse to further tighten his grip. Turkish officials dismiss such claims, saying the purges are justified by the gravity of the threat posed by the failed uprising.
Western allies are also watching Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, concerned that both leaders may use their detente and chilled relations with the West to pressure Washington and the European Union.
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has said Europe needs to think again about Turkey’s possible EU membership.
“I am interested in a fundamental discussion,” he said on Wednesday in an interview with broadcaster ORF.
“That fundamental discussion is: Can we accept someone within the EU who does not adhere to democratic standards, who has difficulty with human rights, and who ignores humanitarian necessities and necessities regarding the rule of law?”
Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but has made scant progress despite an initial burst of reforms. Many EU states are not eager to see such a large, mostly Muslim country as a member, and are concerned that Ankara’s record on basic freedoms has gone into reverse in recent years.
In a return to combative form, Erdogan on Wednesday took aim at Turkey’s banks, saying they should not be charging high interest in the aftermath of the coup plot and promising to take action against lenders who “go the wrong way”.
Erdogan has repeatedly equated high interest rates with treason and called for lower borrowing costs to fuel growth, raising concern about the independence of the central bank.
Erdogan on Tuesday took a big step toward normalizing ties with Russia, meeting Putin in a visit to St Petersburg, his first foreign trip since the failed coup.
Putin said Moscow would phase out sanctions against Ankara, imposed after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border nine months ago, and that bringing ties to their pre-crisis level was the priority.
“We’re not mending relations with Russia to send a message to the West,” Minister Cavusoglu said. “If the West loses Turkey one day, it will not be because of Turkey’s relations with Russia, China, or the Islamic world, but rather because of themselves.”
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Ankara it was normal for Turkey to seek “other options” on defense cooperation as it had not received the expected support from its western friends and NATO allies following the failed coup.
NATO said on Wednesday that Turkey’s membership was not in question and that Ankara could count on its solidarity and support after the coup bid, which has triggered deep purges in the alliance’s second-largest armed forces.
Cavusoglu also indicated that Turkey could find common ground with Russia on Syria, where they have been on opposing sides of the conflict. Moscow backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey says he is a dictator who must be removed.
“We think similarly regarding the ceasefire, humanitarian aid and (the need for) political resolution in Syria,” Cavusoglu said, although he added the two may think differently on how to implement the ceasefire.
He said Turkey was building a “strong mechanism” with Russia to find a solution in Syria, and a delegation including the foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials would go to Russia on Wednesday for talks.
Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Nick Tattersall and David Dolan; Editing by Richard Balmforth and James Dalgleish