Turk­ish of­fi­cers’ case pre­sents diplo­matic test

Bal­anc­ing act as 8 face trial on Thurs­day

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

The gov­ern­ment faces a cru­cial pe­riod re­quir­ing del­i­cate diplo­matic ma­neu­ver­ing fol­low­ing the re­quest of eight Turk­ish sol­diers who are im­pli­cated in a failed coup in Turkey for po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in Greece.

Yes­ter­day the eight of­fi­cers ap­peared in a court in Alexan­droupoli and were granted a three-day ex­ten­sion to pre­pare their de­fense on charges of il­le­gal en­try into Greece and vi­o­lat­ing Greek air space. They landed at Alexan­droupoli air­port on Satur­day af­ter flee­ing Istanbul fol­low­ing the fail­ure of an at­tempted coup. The eight claim to have been un­aware that a coup was un­der way and to have fled aboard the he­li­copter af­ter com­ing un­der fire by Turk­ish po­lice.

The Turk­ish of­fi­cers – three ma­jors, three cap­tains and three sergeant ma­jors – fear for their lives in their coun­try, their lawyers say, fol­low­ing in­di­ca­tions by Turk­ish gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials that the death penalty could be re­stored for those found guilty of high trea­son.

Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras has avoided too many pub­lic state­ments on the mat­ter. Fol­low­ing talks with both Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim, Tsipras said Greek au­thor­i­ties will ex­am­ine the asy­lum re­quests of the eight of­fi­cers “swiftly” but with full re­spect for in­ter­na­tional laws and hu­man rights treaties. On Satur­day, he wrote on his Twit­ter ac­count: “The gov­ern­ment and peo­ple of Greece are fol­low­ing the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion in Turkey stand­ing for democ­racy and con­sti­tu­tional or­der.”

For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias noted that Athens would en­force Euro­pean and Greek law while also tak­ing into ac­count the fact that the eight of­fi­cers have been im­pli­cated in an at­tempted coup in the neigh­bor­ing coun­try.

Greek diplo­matic sources in­di­cated yes­ter­day that Athens is de­ter­mined to avoid “im­port­ing” Turkey’s cri­sis. At the same time the gov­ern­ment wants to dis­play a neu­tral stance op­po­site the judi- ciary, ahead of the Turk­ish of­fi­cers’ trial on Thurs­day, and op­po­site the Greek Asy­lum Ser­vice that will con­sider their ap­pli­ca­tions.

With Er­do­gan hav­ing ex­pressed his de­ter­mi­na­tion to rid the armed forces of “traitors,” Athens is now wait­ing to see how the failed coup will im­pact Ankara’s move­ments in the Aegean – tra­di­tion­ally the main source of ten­sion be­tween the two neigh­bors.

Diplo­matic sources said that the tra­di­tional di­vi­sion be­tween the mil­i­tary and politi­cians in Turkey is very of­ten played out in the Aegean and at­tribute the spike in ten­sion last March and April – coin­cid­ing with NATO naval pa­trols in the area – to an at­tempt by se­nior rank­ing mil­i­tary lead­ers, who played a lead­ing role in the coup, to cre­ate diplo­matic prob­lems for the Er­do­gan gov­ern­ment.

Mean­while, ac­cord­ing to sources, the Greek De­fense Min­istry had ob­served move­ment of Turk­ish tanks hours be­fore the coup at­tempt close to the bor­der, east of Evros river, which sev­eral an­a­lysts said demon­strated the amount of plan­ning and or­ga­ni­za­tion that went into the coup.

In a re­lated de­vel­op­ment, mem­bers of the Party of Equal­ity, Peace and Friend­ship (KIEF), which rep­re­sents mi­nor­ity Mus­lims in Ko­mo­tini are to stage a rally in the north­east­ern city on Sun­day. The rally, which is be­ing held to com­mem­o­rate the party’s founder, had been planned be­fore the at­tempted coup but there are con­cerns about pos­si­ble ten­sions in view of the Turk­ish of­fi­cers’ trial this week.

Two of the eight Turk­ish of­fi­cers who fled from Turkey to Greece aboard a mil­i­tary he­li­copter on Satur­day fol­low­ing a failed coup at­tempt are es­corted out of a court com­plex in Alexan­droupoli, north­ern Greece, yes­ter­day.

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