July 18, 2016 / 11:39 AM / 4 years ago

U.S. backs justice for coup plotters but urges Turkey to keep rule of law

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States backs Turkish efforts to bring those involved in the weekend’s failed coup to justice, but urges the government to uphold the rule of law and not take excessive measures, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (R) during an European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq/Pool

Speaking after meeting EU counterparts in Brussels, Kerry said he had also made clear to Turkey it must provide evidence that withstands scrutiny when requesting the extradition of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Tayyip Erdogan has blamed for the attempted power grab.

“We stand squarely on the side of the elected leadership in Turkey. But we also firmly urge the government of Turkey to maintain calm and stability throughout the country,” Kerry told a news briefing.

“We also urge the government of Turkey to uphold the highest standards of respect for the nation’s democratic institutions and the rule of law. We will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice but we also caution against a reach that goes well beyond that.”

Turkey’s turmoil and the Gulen case present a quandary for the United States because Ankara is a pivotal ally in the NATO security alliance and has an important role in the war against Islamist militancy.

Kerry stressed that NATO had a requirement when it came to democracy and “will ... measure very carefully what is happening” in Turkey.

“My hope is that Turkey is going to move in ways that do respect what they have said ... is the bedrock of their country,” he said.

Referring to Gulen, Kerry called on Turkey to furnish evidence “that withstands scrutiny”, rather than allegations.

Turkey has said it is putting together an extradition request for Gulen. The Muslim cleric said on Sunday that he would obey any U.S. extradition ruling from the United States, but accused Erdogan of staging the putsch himself.

Even if an extradition request were formally submitted and approved, lawyers in the United States could argue that risks to his safety should prevent him being returned.

More than 290 people were killed and around 1,400 wounded in the upheaval in Turkey late on Friday and early on Saturday as soldiers commandeered tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets in a bid to seize power. They strafed parliament and the intelligence headquarters in Ankara and tried to seize the main airport and bridges in Istanbul.

Turkey suspended thousands of police officers on Monday, widening a purge of the armed forces and judiciary after the coup attempt, raising concern among European allies that it was abandoning the rule of law.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Robin Emmott; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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