ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will not compromise with Washington over the extradition of the Islamic cleric it accuses of orchestrating a failed coup, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday, warning of rising anti-Americanism if the United States fails to extradite.
Yildirim’s comments, at a briefing for local reporters, were the latest to take aim at Turkey’s top NATO ally and coincided with a report that an Istanbul prosecutor wrote to U.S. authorities asking f/4or the detention of cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey says Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania since 1999, masterminded the failed July 15 putsch when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters in an attempt to overthrow the government. Gulen has denied the charge and condemned the coup.
“There is no compromise apart from this chief terrorist coming to Turkey and being prosecuted,” Yildirim was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu Agency.
“The only way to prevent the rising (negative) sentiment against America is for the U.S. to hand over this man and make sure Turkey’s justice system holds him accountable.”
Turkey’s foreign minister said this week documents had been sent to the United States and that Turkey had received “positive signals” about Gulen’s possible extradition. Turkey has not said clearly whether it has filed a formal extradition request.
The White House said on Saturday that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden would visit Turkey on Aug. 24, the first trip by a high-ranking U.S. official since the abortive coup.
Yildirim said a U.S. technical team would visit Turkey on Aug. 22 to discuss legal issues relating to the possible extradition, according to Anadolu. He said Secretary of State John Kerry is due in October, according to broadcaster CNN Turk.
Yildirim said he believed there would be a “positive outcome” with Washington on the extradition, Anadolu said.
U.S. officials have said that the United States has a formal process for dealing with extradition requests and that Turkey must provide solid evidence of Gulen’s involvement.
The Istanbul chief prosecutor wrote to U.S. authorities asking for Gulen’s detention, CNN Turk said. Turkey’s Justice Ministry passed on the letter - which contained 10 charges against Gulen including attempting to overthrow the government - to the United States, it added.
Gulen said on Friday he would hand himself over to Turkish authorities only if an independent international investigative body first found him guilty.
“If a tenth of the accusations against me are established, I pledge to return to Turkey and serve the heaviest sentence,” he said in an opinion piece in French daily Le Monde.
More 240 people were killed in the putsch, and Turkish authorities say they have detained more than 35,000 people and placed more than 17,000 of them under formal arrest.
Yildirim said that more than 76,000 officials have been suspended and nearly 5,000 dismissed since the coup, including 3,000 soldiers as well as judges and civil servants.
There is concern among Turkey’s NATO allies as well as the European Union, which it aspires to join, that Erdogan - in power the prime minister or president since 2002 - might be using the purge to eliminate dissent.
Such perceptions have angered senior Turkish officials, who say that Western critics appear to be more concern about the security response than the coup itself.
Still, the scope of the security sweep now appears to be worrying even some in the ruling, Islamist-rooted AK Party.
“Even if the shock absorber of a car breaks down, they say someone with (the Gulenists) has done this,” Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes told CNN Turk.
“(Such an approach) would make this a witchhunt....and would weaken the gravity of what happened on July 15,” said Turkes, a former member of the nationalist opposition who switched to AK.
Erdogan’s critics say he and the AKP he founded allowed Gulen’s followers to rise to important posts within the state apparatus and relied on them to help curb the power of the military, which had ousted four governments since 1960 for posing what it saw as an Islamist threat to the secular order.
The troubled relationship between Gulen’s movement and Erdogan and the AKP he founded burst into the open with a corruption scandal in late December 2013 that fingered members of Erdogan’s inner circle. Erdogan cast the allegations as an maneuver orchestrated by Gulen’s followers to undermine him.
Speaking to Reuters on Saturday in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeastern province of Diyarbakir, Selahattin Demirtas, head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition, said Erdogan had allowed Gulen’s followers to tighten their hold within state bodies.
“Gulenists have been organizing within various state institutions ... within the last 35-40 years but they had their golden years by all means (after) AKP took the helm (in 2002),” Demirtas said in an interview.
“Until the last three years, staff positions within the state were presented to them openly with the support and encouragement of the AKP. These positions were given to them; and this wasn’t done covertly. They didn’t get these positions by tricking the AK Party. This was an obvious alliance.”
Additional reporting by Umit Ozdal in Diyarbakir and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Mark Heinrich