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Pastor back on trial in Turkey as US hopeful of release

AFP  |  Aliaga (Turkey) 

An American pastor whose detention for the past two years by sparked a crisis in ties with the went back on trial Friday with hopeful he will finally be released.

The detention since October 2016 of on terror charges caused not just one of the worst diplomatic rows of recent times between the NATO allies but also a crash in the Turkish lira, which exposed Turkey's economic fragility.

The new hearing was held in a court in Aliaga in western province, with Brunson present as well as his wife and US charge d'affaires Jeffrey Hovenier, an said.

A total of five witnesses from the prosecution and defence were heard in a morning session before the court took a lunch break.

Turkish judicial authorities have repeatedly denied requests for the release of Brunson, who was moved from prison to house arrest in city in July.

But observers see growing indications that he may be allowed to go free on at Friday's hearing, and the has expressed hope he will be released.

But if the court forces him to stay in detention or keeps a in place, the backlash from and also financial markets could prove bruising for

"I'm hopeful that before too long he and his wife will be able to return to the That would be an important step and Turkish relationship," State Department said ahead of the hearing.

The lira saw volatile trade ahead of the decision, losing 0.15 percent against the dollar to trade at 5.92.

US broadcaster said and the United States had reached a secret deal for Brunson to be released Friday and some charges against him dropped, in exchange the US easing "economic pressure" that included the sanctions which hammered the lira.

But Turkey insists the judiciary is independent and Nauert said she was "not aware" of any such deal.

The resumption of the trial comes at a sensitive time for the Turkish leadership, which is under global scrutiny over how it handles the case of Saudi who disappeared at in Istanbul.

Both Turkish and US have pressed to explain what happened to Khashoggi. If the Brunson issue is resolved to Washington's satisfaction, it could help the two sides coordinate their Saudi policy more closely.

Erdogan, who has in the past taken aim at Brunson, appeared to distance himself from the case in his latest comments, saying he could not interfere in judicial affairs.

"Whatever decision the judiciary makes, I am obliged to obey it," he told Turkish reporters.

Trump has lauded Brunson as a "great patriot" who was being held "hostage".

Brunson was first detained in October 2016 on allegations of assisting groups branded as terrorists as part of a crackdown by the following a failed coup earlier that year blamed on US-based

If convicted, he faces 35 years in jail on charges of aiding terror groups and espionage. Brunson and US officials insist he is innocent of all charges.

Abdulkadir Selvi, a in Hurriyet whose columns are closely watched for indications of the Erdogan administration's thinking, wrote this week he expected the pastor to walk free and "solve" the Turkey-US crisis.

The new hearing also comes as Turkey braces for potential fines from US authorities over sanctions busting by Turkish lender which has already seen the jailing of its

In another less publicised issue, the United States is also watching the case of NASA Serkan Golge, a dual national, who was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in February on terror charges, a term reduced to a five years last month.

Erdogan, who had a brief handshake with Trump on the sidelines of the annual in September, has said he hoped to rebuild relations with with the "spirit of strategic partnership.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, October 12 2018. 17:05 IST