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Erdogan seeks to extradite US-based cleric, testing US-Turkey ties

Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, has lived in the US since 1997. Erdogan claims that Gulen's followers are trying to topple his elected government.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Erdogan called today on the United States to extradite a Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric.

After vowing for months to “punish” those responsible for what he calls an attempted “civilian coup,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called today on the United States to extradite a Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric. 

Mr. Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen – a former ally who has lived in the US since 1997 – of creating a “parallel state” with his followers to control Turkey’s judiciary and security forces, and of leaking wiretapped conversations that exposed alleged corruption by Erdogan and his inner circle. Since December three cabinet ministers have resigned. 

In the wake of the scandal, Erdogan has reassigned thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors and investigators involved in those cases, while denying claims of corruption in his government.

Mr. Gulen, whose organization runs an extensive network of charter schools in the US and Turkey, has denied trying to unseat his erstwhile ally. And any extradition request is likely to meet a chilly reception in Washington: President Barack Obama showed his displeasure with AKP handling of anti-government protests last June by not speaking to Erdogan for six months. 

The White House has since criticized Erdogan’s effort to curb social media, especially Twitter and YouTube, and to give further powers to intelligence agencies. Turkey's highest court later overturned the ban on Twitter to the anger of Erdogan, who said the ruling was against Turkey's national interests. 

Since the heavy-handed police crackdown last summer that drenched protestors with tear gas for weeks, Erdogan has lashed out in public speeches, blaming everyone from media conglomerates and a global “interest-rate lobby” to Jews, Americans, and – since December – the alleged “parallel structure” created by Gulen.

Defying his critics, Erdogan led his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to another election victory in municipal elections a month ago.

In an interview broadcast late on Monday, Erdogan was asked by PBS talk show host Charlie Rose if he just “woke up one day” to find his government had been infiltrated by a “parallel state.”

“We were aware that they were trying to infiltrate various organizations, but we were not aware of their ultimate bad intentions, and we felt, we realized this after awhile and we began taking some measures,” said Erdogan.

“Yes, it was a coup. It was a civilian coup. This is what they were doing,” said Erdogan. If he had “remained silent” after the release of wiretapped conversations, and the explosion of critical interest in the Turkish media and on Twitter then “things might have gone a different way,” Erdogan told Mr. Rose.

Greater surveillance powers

Criticism has grown over government steps, including a new law that gives Turkey’s national intelligence agency greater surveillance powers, more immunity, and jail time for sensitive leaks.

It's unclear on what grounds Turkey would seek to extradite Gulen to stand trial in Turkey, a NATO ally. Under a 1979 US-Turkey treaty, Turkey must first issue a warrant for Gulen’s arrest and produce evidence of a crime. The treaty exempts all crimes of a “political character,” according to Reuters.

Erdogan said Turkey complied with 10 past extradition requests from the US, and warned that Gulen could pose a risk “because what they do to us here, they might do against their host.”

From self-imposed exile in the US, Gulen has exercised influence through a network of schools and businesses in Turkey and abroad. For years, this network helped propel Erdogan and the rise of his Islam-rooted AKP. Now the fallout between the rival groupings has cast a long shadow over Erdogan's rule, adding weight to charges of increasingly authoritarian rule. 

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