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Turkey court opens espionage trial of US consulate staffer

AFP  |  Istanbul 

A Turkish court on Tuesday starts the trial of a US consulate staffer accused of spying and attempting to overthrow the government in one of several cases fuelling tensions between the United States and its NATO ally.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen and liaison with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was arrested in 2017 and has been accused of ties to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says ordered a failed 2016 coup.

The trial begins as relations between the United States and Turkey have worsened with disagreements over Syria's war, Turkey's purchase of Russian missiles and the US refusal to extradite Gulen.

The first hearing of Topuz's trial in Caglayan court in Istanbul is expected to last three days. He faces life in jail if found guilty of spying and plotting to overthrow the government.

The US embassy has called the accusations "wholly without merit".

US officials say freeing "unjustly detained" Turkish nationals on their staff is a priority, as is the case of NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual US-Turkish national jailed on terror charges.

Another Istanbul local consulate staffer, Mete Canturk, is under house arrest and facing similar charges to Topuz.

A judge in January convicted Hamza Ulucay, a former local employee of the US consulate in Adana, southern Turkey, of helping outlawed Kurdish militants. He was released for time already served.

Topuz was formally charged in January. He is accused of contact with police officers and a former prosecutor suspected of links to the Gulen movement, according to Anadolu state agency.

His initial arrest in 2017 triggered a diplomatic crisis with both Turkey and the US suspending visa services, until they stepped back.

"This has been a big deal in the Turkish-US relations, but Americans have reversed course from an earlier decision to impose visa bans and have decided to pursue a quiet diplomacy," said Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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

First Published: Tue, March 26 2019. 10:05 IST