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Nov 21 2018

Ankara's ongoing crackdown casts shadow over upcoming EU meeting - Reuters

A crackdown by Ankara on over a dozen people accused of supporting attempts by jailed businessman and rights advocate Osman Kavala has cast a shadow of Turkey’s talks with the European Union set to take place this week, Reuters reported.

 The EU Commission's Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini and the Commissioner for candidate countries, Johannes Hahn, are set to visit Ankara on Thursday and the pair are expected to bring up the crackdown on activists, Reuters said.

The visit by the EU officials comes at a time when opposition in the EU to Turkish membership has been strengthened by Ankara's clampdown on critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since a failed military coup in 2016.

 Turkish authorities on Friday detained 13 people accused of supporting attempts by Kavala to revive mass protests that took place throughout the country in 2013 against the rule of Erdoğan. All but Yiğit Aksakoğlu,  a well-known figure in civil society groups and non-governmental organisations, have been released. Aksakoğlu, who is in a solitary cell in a prison in İstanbul, is accused of attempting to overthrow the government. 

 Turkish media said that prosecutors ordered the arrest of 188 people, including 100 former air force personnel, over links to Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based cleric Ankara accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt, Reuters noted, highlighting that since the failed putsch more than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, and widespread arrests are still routine. Another 150,000 civil servants and military personnel have been suspended.

The EU has set low expectations ahead of this week's talks in Ankara, the agency said, with work towards EU visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals moving slowly, and the modernisation of a customs deal remains blocked after EU member states said work should be suspended.

"We do understand the concerns of Turkey and we don't want to prevent Turkey from fighting terrorism," an EU official told Reuters. However, "if you lock up bloggers or journalists because of them saying something, then it becomes an issue."

Turkey's EU accession negotiations began in October 2005. Progress had slowed in recent years and this past June E.U. ministers declared the talks at a "standstill."