Turkey’s leader said on Saturday 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. Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey’s NATO allies and the expulsions, if carried out, would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power.
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.
“They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
The US and French embassies and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A US State Department spokesperson said it was aware of the reports and was seeking clarity from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Norway said its embassy had not received any notification from Turkish authorities.
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Six of the countries involved are EU members, including Germany and France. European Parliament President David Sassoli tweeted: “The expulsion of ten ambassadors is a sign of the authoritarian drift of the Turkish government. We will not be intimidated. Freedom for Osman Kavala.”
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said his ministry had not received any official notification, but was in contact with its friends and allies.
“We will continue to guard our common values and principles, as also expressed in the joint declaration,” he said in a statement.
A source at the German Foreign Ministry also said the 10 countries were consulting with one another.
Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference and a former German ambassador, is calling on EU leaders to respond with reciprocal action by “declaring Turkish Ambassadors in the EU persona non grata”.
MEP Michael Gahler, the EPP group’s coordinator for foreign affairs, echoed: “Declaring Turkish ambassadors in EU personae non gratae would be an appropriate action to take.”
He added: “Erdogan knows that Osman Kavala is innocent, the ambassadors know, every knowledgeable person is aware of that. [Erdogan] deliberately ignored a court ruling that acquitted [Kavala].”