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Erdogan denounces Soros over jailed Turkish philanthropist

Calling him a 'famous Hungarian Jew,' Turkish president says US billionaire backed jailed man accused of organising Gezi protests
Thousands of people take to the streets to demonstrate against the policies of the Turkish government in 2013 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused George Soros of aiding a jailed Turkish philanthropist accused of seeking to overthrow the government, describing the Hungary-born US billionaire as a "famous Hungarian Jew".

Erdogan suggested on Wednesday that Soros had backed businessman Osman Kavala who organised civil society events through his Anadolu Culture Foundation, and has been in prison for the last year awaiting trial.

In a speech to local officials, Erdogan accused Kavala of financing the 2013 protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul which at the time marked one of the biggest challenges to his rule.

"There is a person who financed the terrorists in the Gezi events. Now he is behind bars," said Erdogan, referring to Kavala without naming him.

"And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros. This person sends people across the world to divide and tear up nations and uses the large amount of money he possesses to this effect."

Erdogan described Kavala as the "representative in Turkey" of Soros and accused Kavala of "using his means to support those trying to tear up this country".

The president's verbal assault against Soros echoed the language of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose government has implemented a "Stop Soros" package targeting the 88-year-old's work in his country of birth, using imagery that Jewish groups have said could stoke anti-Semitism.

Soros, who funds philanthropic projects across the world, has become a favourite target of far-right groups in several countries, the AFP news agency reported.

Fourteen detained

Controversy over the Kavala case has intensified in the last week after 14 Turkish academics and activists were detained on Friday over alleged links to the imprisoned philanthropist.

Among the detainees were staff of Kavala's Anadolu Culture Foundation and the Turkish head of the Open Society Foundation, which was founded by Soros.

A statement from the Turkish public prosecution office said those detained had financed and organised the Gezi protests, which took place between May and August 2013, by using the two foundations.

It claimed the suspects were aiming to create chaos and overturn the Turkish government by applying violence and force.

The statement said that to carry out this aim, the suspects brought civil disobedience activist trainers from abroad, spread propaganda in the press and organised a campaign to stop tear gas imports to Turkey.

More than 20 people died during the protests, centred around Istanbul's Gezi Park, which saw thousands of people take to the streets to demonstrate against the policies of the government.

The detentions were greeted with strong protests by the US, European Union and the Turkish opposition.

All the suspects were released bar Yigit Aksakoglu, a staff member of Istanbul's private Bilgi University, who was remanded in custody.

Demirtas appeal

Kavala's supporters say the allegations against him of seeking to overthrow the government are absurd and that he had worked tirelessly to build bridges in society, in particular with Armenians.

They also say it is a disgrace he has yet to receive an indictment over a year after his arrest on 18 October 2017.

Erdogan also lashed out at Tuesday's decision of the European Court of Human Rights to urge the release of pro-Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtas who has been held for two years on terrorism charges.

"Make any decision you like in your glass palaces, hold any vote you like. We have never made concessions on our state as democracy governed by rule of law," said Erdogan, accusing Demirtas of inciting October 2014 protests where dozens of mainly Kurdish protesters died.

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