ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he ordered Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to remove 10 Western ambassadors from the country, including envoys from the U.S., Germany and France for saying a detained civil society leader should be released.
“I gave the order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately. They should know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave,” Erdogan said during a televised speech.
Declaring a diplomat persona non grata usually means they are not welcome and will be expelled.
Ambassadors to Ankara from the U.S., Germany, France, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand issued a joint statement on Oct. 18, calling for the release Turkish philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala, who has been detained for four years despite not being convicted of a crime.
Last year he was acquitted of the charges related to the anti-government protests of 2013, but was re-arrested before his release over allegations that he was involved in 2016 coup attempt.
It is yet not clear if Erdogan’s decision to remove the diplomats is final. Turkey’s foreign minister is currently in South Korea until Oct. 24. No one in the Foreign Ministry has yet to comment on the matter.
Turkey, a longtime NATO member that has applied for EU membership, has seen tensions rise recently with many Western allies. Ankara has been slapped with U.S. sanctions for buying high-tech military equipment from Russia while it has faced naval showdowns in Mediterranean with NATO allies France and Greece.
If the ambassadors are expelled, it could be a further blow to an economy that is already facing headwinds. The Turkish lira, which already lost more than 20% of its value against dollar this year amid nearly daily record lows, may face further sell-off when markets open on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), established by the Group of Seven rich nations, downgraded Turkey to the so-called gray list on Thursday for falling short of measures to curb money laundering and terrorist financing.
With inflation almost at 20% amid high-unemployment, opinion polls showed support for Erdogan’s ruling coalition falling below the opposition alliance for the first time in September, raising alarms for Erdogan ahead of presidential and parliament elections slated for 2023.
It is widely believed that the Turkish central bank’s surprise 200 basis-point rate cut on Thursday was the result of direct pressure from Erdogan. The president believes that high interest rates lead to inflation, contrary to common economic thought, and is willing to pursue growth even if it means sacrificing the value of the lira.
He sacked three rate-setting monetary policy committee members in earlier this month.
The president is trying to use “artificial justifications for the economy he has destroyed,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of main opposition Republican People’s Party, tweeted after Erdogan’s persona non grata order Saturday. “Turn around and look at the people’s dinner tables,” he said, referring to the impact of 29% food inflation.
Can Selcuki, head of polling company and consultancy Istanbul Economics Research, said, “I was not expecting an early election but now I do. Too many destabilizing developments may either force an early election or indeed maybe it is the government’s strategy for early elections.”
Emre Peker, Europe director for political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, was also critical. “President Erdogan’s knee-jerk reactions are motivated by a desire to arrest his plummeting popularity at home by projecting the image of strong global leader. If Ankara expels a dozen Western ambassadors — including the envoys of seven NATO allies — this will have diplomatic, security and economic repercussions for Turkey.
“At a time Erdogan is seeking to buy more U.S. F-16 fighter aircrafts, intervene in Syria again and steady the economy, this is a hardly smart choice. It will only exacerbate Turkey’s woes and deepen its international isolation-not to mention dependence on Russia.”
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