US general seeks to soothe Turkey ties strained by coup purge


America’s highest-ranking military officer sought on Monday to soothe strained ties with NATO ally Turkey, which was angered by the West’s response to a failed military coup and by an apparent US reluctance to hand over the cleric it says was responsible.

The fallout from the abortive coup on July 15, in which more than 230 people were killed as mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in a bid to seize power, has deepened a rift between Ankara and its Western allies.

President Tayyip Erdogan and many Turks have been frustrated by US and European criticism of a government crackdown in the wake of the attempted putsch in Turkey, a country vital to the US-led fight against Islamic State and to stopping illegal migration to Europe.

They have accused Western leaders of being more concerned about the rights of the plotters than the gravity of the threat to a NATO member state.

More than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation since the coup, prompting fears that Erdogan is pursuing an indiscriminate crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Senior Turkish officials rounded on Germany for preventing Erdogan from addressing a rally on Sunday of his supporters in Cologne via video-link. Berlin’s foreign ministry spokesman acknowledged relations were going through a “bumpy patch”.

About 150 protesters, meanwhile, marched to the U.S. embassy in Ankara to protest against a visit by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, the principal military adviser to the American president, who met Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and his Turkish military counterpart.

“Coup plotter Dunford get out of Turkey,” the crowd chanted as it marched down a central Ankara street to the embassy, where Turkish police kept them at a distance from the building.

“Dunford go home. Send us Fethullah,” said one banner, in reference to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network of followers in the military and state institutions are blamed by Erdogan for orchestrating the coup plot.