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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Erdogan says US set deadline for pastor's release

Turkish president remains defiant as US pressure hits currency and investor confidence

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters in Rize on August 11, 2018. Presidential Palace via Reuters
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters in Rize on August 11, 2018. Presidential Palace via Reuters

The United States gave Turkey a deadline to release an American pastor being tried by a Turkish court or face sanctions, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday as he threatened once again to seek out new allies.

"They tell us to release the priest by Wednesday 6pm, otherwise the sanctions will begin," Mr Erdogan said, revealing details of talks between the Nato allies in Washington on Wednesday.

Turkey was not a country to agree to such requests, he told members of his party in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.

Turkey's detention of Andrew Brunson on security-related charges is one of a series of disputes at the heart of deteriorating ties between the two countries. Washington had already imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers earlier this month and on Friday President Donald Trump announced a doubling of US tariffs of Turkish steel and aluminium, saying, "Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!"

Both US moves caused drops in the Turkish lira, which fell to a record low on Friday, heightening investor fears over the state of its struggling economy.

Overnight the lira plunged to a fresh record low of 7.24 against the dollar during Asia-Pacific trade, where markets were opening for Monday morning, and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said an action plan would be implemented to ease investor concerns.

Mr Erdogan had indicated he was in no mood to offer concessions to the United States, or financial markets.

"The aim of the operation is to make Turkey surrender in all areas, from finance to politics," Mr Erdogan said.

"We are once again facing a political, underhand plot. With God's permission we will overcome this."

Mr Erdogan appeared unworried by the punitive measures imposed by the US, saying Turkey could turn to other partners and again terming the crisis an "economic war".

"We will give our answer, by shifting to new markets, new partnerships and new alliances, to the one who waged an economic war against the entire world and also included our country," he said.

"Some close the doors and some others open new ones," said Mr Erdogan, who has built closer ties over the last years with countries from Latin America, Africa to Asia.

He appeared to indicate that the entire alliance between Turkey — which joined Nato in 1952 with strong American backing - and Washington was at stake.

"We can only say 'goodbye' to anyone who sacrifices its strategic partnership and a half century alliance with a country of 81 million for the sake of relations with terror groups," he said.

"You dare to sacrifice 81-million Turkey for a priest who is linked to terror groups?"

Mr Brunson, an evangelical Christian, has been held since October 2016 on charges of terror and espionage, and if convicted, could face a jail term of 35 years. Mr Trump has described his detention as a "total disgrace" and urged Erdogan to free him immediately.

A delegation led by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal failed to secure a deal last Wednesday in talks in Washington on a number of issues including Mr Brunson.

Analysts say that while Washington's sanctions against Ankara sparked the immediate crisis, Turkey's economy has been risking trouble for a while due to high inflation and the weak lira.

The central bank has over the last weeks defied calls from markets for rate hikes to combat these problems, raising fears of interference from Mr Erdogan, who has repeatedly called for low interest rates.

Mr Erdogan had on Saturday described interest rates as a "tool of exploitation", in remarks that may not be warmly welcomed by the markets.

And the Brunson case is just one of many bones of contention between Turkey and the United States, ranging from Syria to Ankara's increasingly cosy relationship with Moscow.

Mr Erdogan also hit back at US authorities for convicting Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, deputy director general of Turkish lender Halkbank, on charges of helping Iran evade US sanctions on billions of dollars of oil proceeds.

"You arrest my Halkbank general deputy director? You impose sanctions on our Halkbank … and then you expect different treatment from Turkey?" said Mr Erdogan, in a second speech in the same city.

He said Turkey's response was not going to be based on "reciprocity", adding: "Those who commit a crime will pay a price."

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Read more:

As US and Turkey break up, experts warn of dangerous ramifications

Turkey-US relationship in jeopardy as currency nosedive deepens

Turkey faces tough choices as it teeters on brink of economic collapse

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