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Turkey crackdown: Erdogan heads to Tanzania to widen fight against Gulen

Leader takes the fight against reclusive cleric, blamed for last year's failed coup in Turkey, to network of schools and charities in East Africa
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures with Turkish flags in the background (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Tanzania on Sunday to start a three-nation East Africa tour seeking action against the network of an exiled cleric he blames for last year's failed coup.

At issue is an international network of charities and schools affiliated with a movement run by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan's nemesis, which has been routinely accused by Ankara of coordinating "terrorist activities". 

"We will raise the issue of FETO's activities in African countries like Tanzania, Mozambique and others," Erdogan told reporters, referring to Gulen's network, which Erdogan has dubbed the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO).

"We will raise with our counterparts what our expectations are in regards to the fight against FETO," he said before leaving on a five-day tour which will also take him to Mozambique and Madagascar. 

Following July's failed coup, Turkey launched a major crackdown. It has so far detained more than 43,000 people over alleged links to Gulen, with Erdogan vowing to eradicate any social, charitable or commercial activity with ties to the preacher's Hizmet movement.

Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, vehemently denies he was behind the attempted putsch. A reclusive figure, he has lived in self-imposed exile in the state of Pennsylvania since 1999. 

Hizmet describes itself as promoting Islam through charity efforts and educational work in countries stretching from Turkey to Africa and Central Asia to the United States. 

But Turkish officials accuse Gulen of using his vast private education network to build influence, and of running a "parallel state" inside Turkey. 

Ankara's calls for Washington to extradite Gulen to face trial back home have until now fallen on deaf ears, although it is not immediately clear whether the new administration of President Donald Trump plans to continue that policy. 

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