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US Embassy suspends non-immigrant visa services in Turkey

This file picture shows a view of the US Embassy building in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. (Photo by Reuters)

The US Embassy in Turkey has suspended processing non-immigrant visa applications on the grounds that it needed to “reassess” Turkey's commitment to its personnel.

“Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of government of Turkey to the security of US mission and personnel,” the mission in Ankara announced in a statement released on Sunday.

It added, “In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey.”

On October 4, Turkish authorities arrested a US Consulate General staffer in the country’s largest city of Istanbul on charges of contacts with members of a movement led by US-based opposition cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom the Ankara government accuses of masterminding last July’s coup attempt.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that the man worked as a contact officer at the Consulate General, and made contacts with former police chiefs Yakup Saygilı, Nazmi Ardiç, Mahir Çakallı and Mehmet Akif Üner, all linked to Gulen’s movement.

The US Embassy in Ankara later said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest of the consulate staffer, claiming that the charges against him were “baseless.”

“The United States government is deeply disturbed by the arrest of a locally-employed staff member. We believe these allegations to be wholly without merit,” the mission said in a statement.

During the July 15, 2016 botched putsch, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

In this file photo, Turkish cleric and opposition figure, Fethullah Gulen, is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, the United States. (Photo by AFP)

Ankara has since accused Gulen of having orchestrated the coup. The opposition figure is also accused of being behind a long-running campaign to topple the government via infiltrating the country’s institutions, particularly the army, police and the judiciary. 

Additionally, the Ankara government has outlawed Gulen’s movement, branding it as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). 

Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.

“Accusations against me related to the coup attempt are baseless and politically-motivated slanders,” he said soon after the botched coup.

Turkey has frequently called on the US to extradite Gulen, but the demands have not been taken heed of.

Turkey, which remains in a state of emergency since the coup, has been engaged in suppressing the media and opposition groups suspected of having played a role in the failed coup.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. More than 110,000 others, including military staff, civil servants and journalists, have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

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