Defiant Erdogan attacks EU
Threat to bring back death penalty
ACOMBATATIVE President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday stepped up his crticism of the EU, saying Turkey had to go its own way and vowing to restore the death penalty if parliament passes it.
Erdogan, who was at the opening ceremony for a memorial dedicated to the 250 people who died during last year’s failed coup, accused Brussels of “messing about” with Turkey’s decades-long bid to join the bloc.
The speech, in front of the presidential palace in Ankara early yesterday, wound up a marathon session of public appearances by Erdogan in both the capital and Istanbul to mark the anniversary of last year’s failed coup.
“The stance of the European Union is clear to see… 54 years have passed and they are still messing us about,” he said, citing what he said was Brussels’ failure to keep promises on everything from a visa deal to aid for Syrian migrants.
“We will sort things out for ourselves, there’s no other option.”
Ties with Europe were strained after the coup, given the West’s alarm about the scale of the government crackdown that followed.
About 150000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and more than 50 000 detained on suspicion of links to the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara blames for the attempted putsch.
He also said he would approve, “without hesitation” the death penalty, if parliament voted to bring it back a move that would end Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
“I don’t look at what Hans and George say. I look at what Ahmet, Mehmet, Hasan, Huseyin, Ayse, Fatma and Hatice say,” he said, to cheers from a flag-waving crowd.
Erdogan, a populist who is the most divisive politician in recent Turkish history, sees himself as the liberator of pious millions who were deprived for decades of their rights and welfare by a secular elite.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU remained committed to dialogue with Turkey and called on Ankara to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.
“One year after the attempted coup, Europe’s hand remains outstretched,” Juncker wrote in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“If Turkey were to introduce the death penalty, the Turkish government would finally slam the door to EU membership.”
Addressing a fiery crowd of hundreds of thousands in Istanbul, Erdogan promised violent retribution against Turkey’s alleged enemies, including Feto his term for Gülen’s network and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We know who is behind Feto, the PKK and all of them,” he said.
“We cannot defeat the queen, king, or sheikhs without defeating the pawns, knights and castles. First, we will rip the heads off of these traitors.”
He also said that alleged members of Gülen’s network would be forced to wear jumpsuits like those worn by prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, after one detainee showed up to a court hearing wearing a T-shirt that said “Hero”.
Erdogan’s speech highlighted the lingering trauma of the failed coup, which the government has blamed on loyalists of Gülen, a Turkish cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.
That night, authorities said, renegade soldiers loyal to Gülen used tanks, planes and helicopters to occupy or attack television stations and public buildings, including parliament, and were defeated after Erdogan rallied citizens to the streets.
The events provided a momentary sense of unity in polarised Turkey: a shared shock and revulsion at the willingness of soldiers to crush people under tanks and strafe crowds from the air.
That unity, though, has dissipated as the government cast a wide net in pursuit of its enemies, sweeping up the failed coup’s alleged accomplices but also dissidents.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Istanbul on July16 last year, following a failed military coup.