Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on October 23 said that he had told his foreign ministry to expel the ambassadors of the United States and nine other Western countries for demanding the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala, a report said. Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey’s NATO allies.

Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has remained in detention while his latest trial continues, and denies the charges.

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 just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”. They were summoned by the foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.

“I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata (undesirable) at once. You will sort it out immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech in the northwestern city of Eskisehir. He added: They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave.

Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to the 2013 protests, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges related to the coup attempt. The Turkish government accuses him of being part of the anti-government Gulen network.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s defence minister said the forming of alliances outside of NATO would harm the organisation, according to comments released on October 23, after Greece and France agreed a defence pact last month. NATO allies Greece and France clinched a strategic military and defence cooperation pact in September, which includes an order for three French frigates worth about 3 billion euros.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this month that the agreement will allow the two countries to come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat.

“Given that we are inside NATO, everyone should know that the search for various alliances outside of it will both cause harm to NATO and our bilateral relations, and shake confidence,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a NATO defence ministers in Brussels this week.

Greece and Turkey are at odds over their continental shelves and their maritime boundaries. They re-launched exploratory contacts on their disputes earlier this year and Akar said he had a constructive meeting with his Greek counterpart. “We had positive, constructive talks with the Greek defence minister. We expect to see positive results from these talks in the period ahead,” Akar said.

Akar also said that “technical work has been launched” on obtaining Viper F16 jets from the United States as well as modernising warplanes that Turkey already has.

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