Opposition Calls Expulsion of Ambassador as Erdoan's Tactic to Divert Economic Issues

Opposition Calls Expulsion of Ambassador as Erdoan's Tactic to Divert Economic Issues

President Tayyip Erdogan's political opponents said on Sunday his call to expel ambassadors from 10 Western-allied nations was an attempt to distract from Turkey's economic predicament, while diplomats hoped the expulsion might be avoided.

Ummatimes -
On Saturday, Erdogan said he had ordered the ambassadors to be declared "persona non grata" for demanding the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala from prison.

As of Sunday evening, there was no sign the foreign ministry would carry out the instructions, which would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan's 19 years in power.

The diplomatic crisis coincided with investor concerns about the Turkish lira falling to a record low after the central bank, under pressure from Erdogan to stimulate the economy, unexpectedly cut interest rates by 200 points last week.

25, 2021, the lira hit a new all-time low in early Asian trade, weakening 1.6% to 9.75 per US dollar in a move bankers attributed to Erdogan's comments. The Turkish lira has lost nearly a quarter of its value so far this year.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, said "Erdogan is rapidly dragging the country to the brink".

"The reason for these measures is not to protect national interests but to create artificial excuses for economic collapse," he said on Twitter.

Osman Kavala, a philanthropist to many civil society groups, has been jailed for four years, charged with financing national protests in 2013 and with involvement in the failed coup in 2016. He denies the charges and remains in custody while his trial continues.

"We have seen this film before," said deputy leader of the opposition IYI Party Yavuz Agiralioglu. "Back at once to our real agenda and the fundamental problem of this country - the economic crisis."

Erdogan said the ambassadors had failed to respect the Turkish judiciary and had no right to demand the release of Osman Kavala.

Sinan Ulgen, the head of the Istanbul-based think tank Edam and a former Turkish diplomat, said Erdogan's timing was not appropriate as Turkey sought to recalibrate its foreign policy from tensions in recent years.

"I still hope that Ankara won't go through this," he tweeted, describing the move as unprecedented among NATO allies.

"Foreign policy establishments are working hard to find a more acceptable formula. But time is running out," he said.

But Erdogan has not always followed through on his threats. In 2018, he said Turkey would boycott US electronics in a dispute with Washington. Sales are not affected. Last year, he called on Turks to boycott French goods over what he said was President Emmanuel Macron's "anti-Islam" agenda, but was not followed up.

A diplomatic source said a decision could be taken at Monday's cabinet meeting and de-escalation was still possible. Erdogan has said he will meet US President Joe Biden at next weekend's G20 summit in Rome.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for two decades, but support for the ruling alliance has eroded ahead of elections scheduled for 2023, in part because of high inflation.

The International Monetary Fund projects 9% economic growth this year, inflation more than doubles, and the lira has fallen 50% against the dollar since Erdogan's last election victory in 2018.

Emre Peker, of the London-based consultancy Eurasia Group, said the threat of expulsion at a time of economic hardship was "at least well considered, and at worst a foolish move to boost Erdogan's plummeting popularity".

"Erdogan should project power for domestic political reasons," he said.

In a joint statement on October 18, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a fair and speedy settlement of Kavala's case, and for his immediate release.

A source at Germany's Foreign Ministry also told Reuters that 10 countries were consulting with each other about the threat of expulsion.

The European Court of Human Rights called for Osman Kavala's immediate release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable suspicion he had committed any offences.

Kavala's next trial will be held on November 26.

Osman Kavala said on Friday he would no longer attend his trial because a fair trial was impossible after recent comments by Erdogan.

Erdogan was quoted as saying on Thursday the ambassadors would not release "bandits, murderers and terrorists" in their own countries.