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Turkey crackdown: Gulenists abroad are feeling the heat

From soldiers in Germany to teachers in Pakistan, those sympathetic to Fethullah Gulen now fear persecution
Students in Pakistan protest after Turkish teachers and managers at Gulenist schools were told to leave the country (AFP)

Turkey’s relentless pursuit of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen’s supporters during the past four months - both at home and abroad - has now resulted in Turkish military personnel serving at NATO bases seeking asylum, fearing persecution if they return home.

Several Turkish military personnel serving at NATO’s Ramstein air command base in Germany have applied for asylum rather than heed summons to return to Turkey, German media reported Wednesday.

Turkish media put the number of those seeking asylum in Germany since the failed 15 July coup attempt in Turkey at 60, which also includes family members of personnel stationed at Ramstein. Last week German officials said they would grant asylum to Turkish citizens if they felt they were being targeted for political reasons.

Ankara and European capitals fall out

Turkish authorities accuse Gulen and his followers of being behind the bid to seize power, which cost 246 lives. Gulen has rejected these allegations.

A massive crackdown was launched after the botched coup attempt. More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and 37,000 arrested – including thousands of soldiers. On Thursday police detained 37 people for links to Gulen, of whom 31 were either serving or retired soldiers.

Turkish authorities say that the Gulen movement has infiltrated various parts of the state apparatus during the past four decades and is deeply entrenched.

The scale of the crackdown and the increased targeting of people and institutions not clearly linked to the Gulen movement has raised concerns both in Turkey and the West that judicial due process might not be observed.

There are also fears that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now seeking to target all its opponents under expanded powers granted under the state of emergency in place since 20 July. Turkey in response has accused Germany of double standards and of harbouring terrorists.

A report in the pro-government Sabah newspaper has warned of a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and a number of European capitals after Turkish military attaches opted not to return to Ankara after a recall.

Out of 30 attaches who failed to return, 18 have obtained medical reports deeming them unfit to travel, the newspaper reported. It said most of the health reports stated depression, backache and a common cold as reasons preventing travel. The newspaper said these attaches who serve in various European capitals including Berlin, Vienna, Brussels and Rome were summoned to testify in regard to the Gulen movement.

Pro-Gulen sports star may quit US

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government ordered all Turkish teachers and managers, along with their families, at Gulen-linked schools in the country to leave by 20 November.

More than 400 people have been affected by the decision. It was unclear whether they would be deported to Turkey or allowed to travel elsewhere.

The decision came the day before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began an official visit to the country on 16 November.

Erdogan hailed the move and said students at those institutions would not suffer as a government-approved foundation would cooperate with Pakistani authorities to keep the schools open.

And Turkish media has reported that Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter is looking to leave the US and join Canadian team Toronto Raptors after the election of Donald Trump. Several of the US president-elect's advisers  have been sympathetic to Ankara's demands that Gulen be extradited from the US, where he now lives.

Kanter, who  plays as a center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, is an avowed Gulen supporter and even changed his surname to Gulen after his parents in Turkey disowned him following the failed coup attempt.