Ankara expresses anger after supreme court rules men who fled in aftermath of failed coup should not be returned. Prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, had been among the first foreign leaders to express condemnation of the coup, openly saying that Greece was no place for coup plotters.
This article titled “Greek court turns down extradition request for eight Turkish officers” was written by Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul and Helena Smith in Athens, for The Guardian on Thursday 26th January 2017 17.18 UTC
The Greek supreme court has turned down a Turkish demand to extradite eight military officers who fled in the aftermath of a coup attempt in a move likely to heighten tension between the neighbouring countries.
The court ruled against the extradition of any of the eight men, citing possible violations of human rights if they were sent home. It was the last ruling after two rounds of appeals.
Ankara, which had pledged to give the officers a fair trial, has been calling for their return since the day they fled by helicopter to Greece hours after the failed coup last July. The men sought political asylum, saying they feared for their lives in Turkey. They deny playing a role in the attempt to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
A statement from the Turkish foreign ministry on Thursday said: “We protest this decision which prevents these individuals who have threatened the life of our president and took an active role in a coup attempt that killed 248 of our citizens … from appearing in front of Turkish judiciary.
“Once again Greece, an ally and a neighbour, has failed to fulfil the basics of the fight against terrorism.”
The ministry said the ruling was politically motivated and also accused Athens of sheltering Kurdish insurgents battling against the Turkish state. It said cooperation and relations with Greece would be reevaluated, adding that the judgment violated international norms and the rights of the victims of the coup attempt.
The Turkish judiciary issued arrest warrants in absentia for the eight officers shortly after the supreme court’s decision was announced.
Though Nato allies, Greece and Turkey are also longtime regional foes that have clashed over Cyprus and come close to war on numerous occasions.
The court ruling came as negotiations to reunify Cyprus – divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup to unite the island with Greece – have reached a critical point.
Many believe that ultimately the key to a solution in Cyprus lies with Erdoĝan. Indicative of that thinking, the British prime minister Theresa May will fly straight from Washington, where she becomes the first foreign leader to meet the new US president Donald Trump, to Ankara for talks with Erdoğan on Saturday. Cyprus, and the potentially explosive issue of Turkish troop presence on the island, is expected to top the agenda.
Greek officials have privately voiced fears that Turkey may retaliate against the ruling on the soldiers’ extradition by relaxing border controls introduced as part of a deal struck with the EU to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.
“If Turkey wanted, the steady increase in refugees we have seen this year could become a deluge,” said one well-placed source. “We can hardly cope with those who are already here.” The migration ministry in Athens estimates there are currently over 62,000 asylum-seeking refugees and migrants in the country.
Defence ministry officials also worry that Ankara may step up claims to islands in the Aegean where, in a test of Greek sovereignty, infractions by Turkish military aircraft and naval ships have surged. Highlighting those fears, in recent months Erdoğan has publicly questioned the 1923 Lausanne agreement delineating the two countries’ common borders.
Prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, had been among the first foreign leaders to express condemnation of the coup, openly saying that Greece was no place for coup plotters. How he explains the verdict and handles its consequences will now require a a level of diplomatic skill that many believe the inexperienced leftist does not possess.
The coup attempt shook Turkey – those involved attempted to assassinate the president, bombed the parliament building and took over vital facilities and media outlets. Coup soldiers commandeered fighter jets and attacked helicopters in an attempt to overthrow his government. Ankara later declared a state of emergency that is still in place.
The European Union has repeatedly criticised the ensuing crackdown on tens of thousands of civil servants, police and military officers, members of the judiciary and journalists who are accused of being loyal to Fethullah Gülen, a US-based preacher whose movement is widely believed to have masterminded the coup attempt.
The breakdown of relations with the EU has threatened the migrant deal, as well as slow accession negotiations that have been ongoing for over a decade.
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