Kerry to visit Turkey amid strained ties after failed coup

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in Turkey later this month, Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday, amid strained relations with Washington over the possible extradition of a Muslim cleric accused of being behind an attempted military coup last month.

The Turkish government has expressed growing annoyance with what it regards as a lack of solidarity from international allies in the aftermath of the failed coup, as well as increased frustration over perceived foot-dragging by the United States over a Turkish demand that U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen be returned to Turkey to face trial.

Turkey accuses Gulen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt by renegade officers in Turkey’s military. It has designated his movement, which runs charities, schools and businesses across the world, as a terrorist organization and has launched a widespread crackdown on suspected members since the failed coup.

Gulen has denied involvement or prior knowledge of the violent coup attempt that left more than 270 people dead. Washington for its part, has asked for evidence of the cleric’s involvement, and has said the extradition process must be allowed to take its course.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Kerry was scheduled to arrive in Turkey Aug. 24, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. He also spoke of the possibility of a separate visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Turkey on Thursday issued a warrant for Gulen’s arrest for ordering the failed coup, a move seen as a prelude to a formal extradition request.

Since the coup attempt, nearly 70,000 people suspected of links to Gulen have been suspended or dismissed from jobs in the civil service, judiciary, education, health care and the military. And about 18,000 people have been detained or arrested, mostly from the military, on suspicion of being involved in the failed putsch. European officials and human rights groups have expressed concern over the crackdown.

On Friday, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev became the first foreign head of state to visit since the failed coup and declared that his country stood in solidarity with Turkey.

Turkey is also pressing its allies to crack down on Gulen-linked schools and charities and has asked Kazakhistan to shut down schools which it says are associated with the movement.

Erdogan announced after talks with Nazarbayev that the two agreed that education authorities from both countries should carry out a joint review of 33 schools in the Central Asian nation which Turkey suspects to be linked to Gulen.

“The (Gulen movement) is not only a threat to Turkey it is a threat to all countries in which it has a presence,” Erdogan said during their joint news conference.

Nazarbayev said the schools in question were strictly controlled by the Kazakh state and that 90 percent of the teachers were Kazakh nationals. He added however, that any teacher found to be linked to the movement after the review, would be “sent back.”

“We will not support anyone working against Turkey,” Nazabayev said. “This would not be in our interest.”

Earlier, the ruling party instructed its local branches and party-led municipalities to purge themselves of suspected Gulen supporters.

Anadolu said the Justice and Development Party, founded by Erdogan, issued a circular ordering its members to “immediately start efforts to purge those linked to the (Gulen movement) or who gave support to the reprehensible coup.”

The crackdown has also expanded to journalists and former employees of Gulen-linked media. On Friday, Anadolu said 12 journalists who used to work for Zaman newspaper were formally arrested pending trial, including columnist Mumtazer Turkone. Six other journalists were jailed pending trial last week.