Turkish Justice Minister Says Greece Sanctuary for Turkey’s Enemies

FILE - Handcuffed Turkish military officers (C) are escorted by plain-clothed police officers as they arrive at the Supreme Court in Athens. (Stelios Misinas/Eurokinissi via AP)

Piling on to other criticism Greece is harboring terrorists who want to bring down the Turkish government, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said “Greece is becoming a gathering place for criminals”  after a Greek court released one of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July, 2016.

The Turkish news agency Anadolu said that was in a letter to Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis, who had offered to have the men tried in Greece although they haven’t committed any crimes in the country and as Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras opposes their asylum.

The development came as Erdogan said he would consider sending back two Greek soldiers facing trial for accidentally straying across the border if the Turkish soldiers were extradited, ending any disguise the detained Greeks weren’t hostages as Defense Minister Panos Kammenos insisted they were bargaining chips – and Tsipras didn’t.

Kammenos is leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by SYRIZA and is allowed to speak out because Tsipras’ government would otherwise come apart.

Gul’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the Council of State ruling, saying Greece was becoming a “safe haven” for Turkey’s enemies. The release, under conditions of a kind of detention, of Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who piloted the helicopter in which he and seven other Turkish servicemen fled to Greece, comes ahead of the scheduled release from detention of the others in May when an 18-month pre-trial period of being held will run out.

Yildirim said it was “unacceptable” for people who took part in the coup attempt to be protected by Greece although the Turkish soldiers they fled for their lives and didn’t take part in the overthrow effort. The Council of State barred extradition, saying their lives would be in danger in Turkey under the near-dictatorial rule of Erdogan.

“Unfortunately, recently, criminals of the FETO organization have started seeing Greece as a safe haven,” he said, referring to what Ankara describes as a terrorist group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and who Erdogan said was the matermind of the coup that failed when Turks rallied around their President.

“I hope they will extradite the members of this organization,” said Yildirim, said, adding that Turkish authorities “do not desire a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations because of members of the FETO organization.” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Greece was “protecting the coup plotters.”