Turkey to send delegation to Washington amid crisis over US pastor

US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson was arrested in July, prompting Trump to warn Turkey that the US was ready to impose “large sanctions” against its NATO ally. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2018
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Turkey to send delegation to Washington amid crisis over US pastor

  • Turkish delegation to visit Washington this week to discuss growing friction between the NATO allies
  • Andrew Brunson was jailed for allegedly supporting a group that Ankara blames for the attempted coup

WASHINGTON/ANKARA: A Turkish delegation will visit Washington this week to discuss growing friction between the NATO allies, according to reports on Tuesday, while Washington said the two countries remained at odds on its core demand that Ankara free American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert acknowledged reports of the visit by a delegation under newly appointed Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal but declined to confirm any meetings between US officials and the Turks.
Broadcaster CNN Turk and Reuters cited diplomatic and Turkish foreign ministry sources in reporting the planned visit, which CNN Turk said would happen in two days.
At a briefing, Nauert confirmed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Turkish counterpart on Monday but said the two sides had not reached agreement on the release of Brunson, who has been imprisoned by Turkey since October 2016.
Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina, was jailed for allegedly supporting a group that Ankara blames for an attempted coup in 2016. Brunson denies the charge. Washington is also seeking the release of three locally employed embassy staff.
“The kind of progress we want is for Pastor Brunson, our locally employed staff and other American citizens to be brought home. That’s the progress we’re looking for and we’re not there just yet,” Nauert said.
Nauert, when asked whether the countries were close to an agreement over the release of Brunson, said, “It’s certainly a good thing that the Secretary and the foreign minister were able to have a phone call yesterday.”
Relations between the two countries have steadily worsened, strained by differences on Syria policy and Brunson’s imprisonment as well as trade issues. Washington is reviewing Turkey’s duty-free access to US markets while Ankara has imposed retaliatory tariffs on US goods in response to American steel and aluminum tariffs. The US review could affect $1.7 billion of Turkish exports.
The diplomatic crisis has hurt foreign investor confidence in Turkey, which relies on overseas capital to fund its widening current account deficit. The Turkish currency, the lira, has collapsed this year, putting pressure on banks and corporations, and it hovered close to its record low against the dollar on Tuesday.
Some US officials say Turkey is holding Brunson as a bargaining chip after Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager at Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, was convicted and imprisoned in the United States in May for helping Iran evade US sanctions.
Ankara has demanded that Atilla serve the remainder of his 32-month sentence in Turkey.
Last week, Washington imposed sanctions on President Tayyip Erdogan’s justice minister and interior minister, saying they played leading roles in organizations responsible for Brunson’s arrest. Erdogan has said Turkey would retaliate against the sanctions.
The US Embassy in Ankara said on Tuesday that the United States continued to be a solid ally of Turkey despite ongoing tensions, adding that the two countries had an active economic relationship.


Ethnic Tubus fear southern Libya offensive

Updated 5 min 41 sec ago
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Ethnic Tubus fear southern Libya offensive

  • The ethnic group fears vengeance by Arab communities that have joined an offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army
  • Long marginalized, Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger, an area long at the mercy of roaming rebel groups, traffickers and extremists

OUBARI: In the southern Libyan city of Oubari, shops are shuttered and tension is palpable, as residents fear an imminent incursion by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar.

We “dread the repercussions of military operations that are unfolding on the edge of town,” said 22-year-old hospital administrator Ali Senoussi, speaking on behalf of his Tubu community.

Many residents in Oubari — some 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Tripoli — are Tubu.

The ethnic group fears vengeance by Arab communities that have joined an offensive by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is on the outskirts of the city.

Long marginalized, Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger, an area long at the mercy of roaming rebel groups, traffickers and extremists.

“We are residents of this region. Our support and love for it is immense,” said 22-year-old Senoussi, clothed in a traditional head robe to screen desert sun and wind.

“We cannot accept being involved in wars with Arab tribes that fight alongside Haftar,” he insisted, sipping tea in the courtyard of a hospital where he works as an administrator.

The LNA says it is seeking to purge “terrorist and criminal groups,” and some accuse the Tubus of supporting Chadian rebels.

But Senoussi dismisses the offensive as “a threat to the social peace of the whole region.”

Tubu lawmakers even allege that ethnic cleansing is under way.

The community was among the first to join the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed Muammar Qaddafi.

But the former dictator’s downfall by no means improved Tubus’ standing in Libya.

Despite being home to some of the country’s biggest oilfields, the region is regularly hit by shortages of all kinds — petrol, electricity, gas cylinders and even bread.

Prices have rocketed on the black market.

Senoussi said the lack of fuel had forced him to leave his car at home and walk to work.

“Most public sector workers prefer to walk” to avoid long queues that have become a fixture of daily life at gas stations, he said.

The intensified chaos of recent years means that the southern border areas are more than ever a haven for extremists, traffickers and rebels.

These groups exploit a security vacuum that is exacerbated by an ongoing power struggle between a UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and a rival administration loyal to Haftar in northeastern Libya.

Tribal and ethnic quarrels between the Tubus, Tuaregs and Arab groups over trafficking have added fuel to the fire.

“We are Muslims, but we have a culture and language that we share with our cousins from Chad, Niger and Sudan,” explained Ali Yahyia, a Tubu expert on his community.

But this does not undermine “our support for the Libyan homeland,” he insisted.

The LNA launched its ongoing military campaign in mid-January and on Wednesday night entered Murzuk, another southern Libyan city home to many Tubus.

Renowned for a fortress that dates back more than seven centuries, much of the historic settlement now resembles a ghost town.

Murzuk’s windswept streets are littered with garbage.

Like Oubari, shops are closed and people are scared to circulate.

Even bakers — hit by a lack of flour — cannot raise their blinds.

“The city faces numerous problems at the service level, particularly at the hospital where we have only one doctor,” deplored municipal councillor Ibrahim Omar.

“With the military operations that are ongoing, the doctors refuse to come, fearing for their lives,” he said.

If the situation persists, “food stocks will in the end be exhausted.”