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Turkey summons US diplomat over embassy's 'liking' Gulenist tweet

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The undated photo shows the entrance to the Turkish Foreign Ministry building in the capital Ankara.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry has summoned the American charge d'affaires over the US Embassy's "liking" a Twitter message by a fugitive member of a movement led by US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of having masterminded a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The foreign ministry's spokesman, Hami Aksoy, said on Sunday that Jeffrey M. Hovenier had been requested to provide an "open and clear" explanation.

Ergun Babahan posted a note on Twitter, attacking the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, who has recently fallen ill.

Turkey summoned Hovenier since Ambassador David Satterfield was out of town, Aksoy said.

Separately, Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said "the US Embassy 'liked' a message by a figure affiliated to the Gulen movement, claiming Bahceli's 'end is near.'"

"Freudian slip? The US Embassy has no business meddling in Turkey's domestic affairs," Altun said, urging the US Department of State to investigate the incident.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, also criticized the 'like' move.

"We strongly condemn the US Embassy 'like' on MHP leader Devlet Bahceli's health, which is unacceptable, inhumane and against diplomatic practices," Celik said on Twitter.

"It shows that some people employed in the Embassy are making a special effort to damage the relations between the two countries."

"The United States Embassy needs to try to understand Turkey not through people linked with terrorist organizations but through people who can conduct proper analysis," Celik said on Twitter.

He called it "an attempt to intervene in Turkish domestics affairs," calling on the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Turkey to investigate the issue. An apology would not suffice, he said.

Additionally, the MHP deputy chairman Semih Yalcin slammed the US over the move.

Yalcin said the MHP leader has recovered from his illness and would return to work in the coming week, adding that those who are expecting Bahceli's withdrawal will be disappointed.

Late on Saturday, the US Embassy in Ankara shared an apology message on Twitter over the incident.

"Earlier today our Embassy Twitter account 'liked' an unrelated post in error. We regret the mistake and apologize for any confusion," it said. The 'like' was also removed from the Embassy's page.

The MHP is an ally of President Erdogan's AK Party. The two parties entered the parliamentary and presidential elections in an alliance last year, which allowed them to attain a majority in parliament together.

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

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.

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."

The undated photo shows Turkish cleric and opposition figure Fethullah Gulen sitting at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, the United States. (By The Associated Press)

The 78-year-old cleric has also called on Ankara to end its "witch hunt" of his followers, a move he says is aimed at "weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime."

Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been met.

Turkey has been engaged in suppressing the media and opposition groups suspected to have played a role in the failed coup.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in the county 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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