Turkey says doesn't want Greece to become 'safe haven' for coup plotters

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Greece on Tuesday to not become a “safe haven” for plotters of last year’s coup attempt, citing the 995 people who have applied for asylum since the failed putsch.

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Speaking at a joint news conference with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, Cavusoglu said asylum seekers needed to be evaluated to determine those linked to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Turkey for masterminding the putsch.

“We would not want our neighbor Greece, with whom we are improving our ties, to be a safe haven for Gulenists. We believe these applications will be evaluated meticulously and that traitors will not be given credit,” Cavusoglu said.

Responding to Cavusoglu’s comments, Kotzias said the decisions on asylum seekers were made by the Greek judiciary and had to be respected even if “it doesn’t please some”.

Relations between Turkey and Greece were further strained in May after a Greek court ruled to not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece following last year’s coup attempt.

Turkey alleges the men, who fled to Greece in a military helicopter as the July coup unfolded, were involved in efforts to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan and has repeatedly demanded they be sent back.

Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Ankara, drawing an angry rebuke from Turkey and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over issues from territorial disputes to ethnically split Cyprus.

“Unfortunately, the Greek courts did not extradite (the eight soldiers), and this has greatly disappointed us,” Cavusoglu said.

He said two other soldiers, accused of trying to assassinate Erdogan on the night of the coup, had also fled to Greece, and that Turkey had demanded their extradition.

In the aftermath of the coup, some 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial and more than 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs in the military, public and private sectors.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have said President Tayyip Erdogan is using the failed coup as a pretext to crush dissent, but the government says the measures are necessary to fight the threats it is facing.

Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan