Erdogan's Critics Say Demand for Expulsions Is Distraction from Economy Woes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria October 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria October 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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Erdogan's Critics Say Demand for Expulsions Is Distraction from Economy Woes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria October 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria October 20, 2021. (Reuters)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political opponents said his call to expel the ambassadors of 10 Western allies was an attempt to distract attention from Turkey’s economic difficulties, while diplomats hoped the expulsions might yet be averted.

On Saturday Erdogan said he ordered the envoys be declared “persona non grata” for seeking philanthropist Osman Kavala’s release from prison. The foreign ministry has not yet carried out the president’s instruction, which would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power.

The diplomatic crisis coincides with investor worries about the Turkish lira’s fall to a record low after the central bank, under pressure from Erdogan to stimulate the economy, unexpectedly slashed interest rates by 200 points last week.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, said Erdogan was “rapidly dragging the country to a precipice”.

“The reason for these moves is not to protect national interests but to create artificial reasons for the ruining of the economy,” he said on Twitter.

Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He denies the charges and has remained in detention while his trial continues.

“We’ve seen this film before. Return at once to our real agenda and the fundamental problem of this country, the economic crisis,” said opposition IYI Party deputy leader Yavuz Agiralioglu.

Erdogan said the envoys were impudent and had no right to demand Kavala’s release, stressing that the Turkish judiciary was independent.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of Istanbul-based think tank Edam and a former Turkish diplomat, said Erdogan’s timing was incongruous as Turkey was seeking to recalibrate its foreign policy away from episodes of tension in recent years.

“I still hope that Ankara will not go through with this,” he wrote on Twitter, describing it as an unprecedented measure among NATO allies. “The foreign policy establishment is working hard to find a more acceptable formula. But time running out.”

Erdogan has not always followed through with threats.

In 2018 Erdogan said Turkey would boycott US electronic goods in a dispute with Washington. Sales of the goods were unaffected. Last year, he called on Turks to boycott French goods over what he said was President Emmanuel Macron’s “anti-Islam” agenda, but did not follow through.

Cabinet meeting
One diplomatic source said a decision on the envoys could be taken at Monday’s cabinet meeting and that de-escalation was possible given concerns about the potential diplomatic fallout. Erdogan has said he will meet US President Joe Biden at next weekend’s G20 summit in Rome.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a state may notify a country’s diplomatic mission that a staff member is unwelcome. The country may recall that person or terminate their role.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for two decades but support for his ruling alliance has eroded significantly ahead of elections scheduled for 2023, partly because of sharp rises in the cost of living.

While the International Monetary Fund projects economic growth of 9% this year, inflation is more than double that and the lira has fallen 50% against the dollar since Erdogan’s last election victory in 2018.

Emre Peker, from the London-based consultancy Eurasia Group, said the threatened expulsions at a time when the economy faces “massive challenges, is at best ill-considered, and at worst a foolish gambit to bolster Erdogan’s plummeting popularity”.

“Erdogan has to project power for domestic political reasons,” he said, adding that typically countries whose envoys have been kicked out retaliate with tit-for-tat expulsions. “This stands to make for increasingly difficult relations with Washington and the EU.”

In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”. They were summoned by the foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.

The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala’s immediate release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence.

Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the countries involved made up half of Turkey’s top 10 trading partners, underlining the potential setback to Erdogan’s efforts to boost the economy ahead of elections.

“Erdogan believes he can win the next Turkish elections by blaming the West for attacking Turkey -- notwithstanding the sorry state of the country’s economy,” he wrote on Twitter.



NKorea Building Roads, Walls Inside Demilitarized Zone

This handout image from Planet Labs PBC taken on June 11, 2024 and received on June 12, 2024 shows a view of the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang. (Photo by Handout / Planet Labs PBC / AFP)
This handout image from Planet Labs PBC taken on June 11, 2024 and received on June 12, 2024 shows a view of the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang. (Photo by Handout / Planet Labs PBC / AFP)
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NKorea Building Roads, Walls Inside Demilitarized Zone

This handout image from Planet Labs PBC taken on June 11, 2024 and received on June 12, 2024 shows a view of the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang. (Photo by Handout / Planet Labs PBC / AFP)
This handout image from Planet Labs PBC taken on June 11, 2024 and received on June 12, 2024 shows a view of the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang. (Photo by Handout / Planet Labs PBC / AFP)

North Korea's military has been building roads and walls inside the Demilitarized Zone that separates it from the South, the Yonhap news agency reported Saturday.

The construction activities are taking place north of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that runs through the middle of the DMZ, the South Korean agency said, citing an unnamed military source.

The report follows an incident last week when South Korean forces fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the MDL.

South Korean authorities said it was likely accidental, and Yonhap quoted a military spokesman as saying some of the North Koreans were carrying work tools.

"Recently, the North Korean military has been erecting walls, digging the ground and constructing roads in some areas between the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and the Northern Limit Line in the DMZ," the military source said, according to Yonhap on Saturday.

It was not clear what they were building, the source told Yonhap.

When asked about the report, the South Korean military said in a statement that it was "closely tracking and monitoring the activities of the North Korean military", and that "further analysis is required".

It said it could not share the South Korean response to these actions "to ensure the safety of the personnel proceeding with an operation", without offering further details.

South Korea's spy agency told AFP this week that it had detected signs that North Korea was demolishing sections of a railway line connecting the two countries.

That followed an escalation in the propaganda war between the two Koreas.

North Korea sent more than a thousand balloons carrying trash into the South, describing them as retaliation for the propaganda balloons sent the other way by anti-Pyongyang activists.

Then, South Korea resumed blasting K-pop songs and news broadcasts at the North, using loudspeakers installed at the border.

The resumption of the loudspeaker campaign prompted Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to threaten an unspecified "new countermeasure".