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1ST LEAD Trial in Turkey of pastor at centre of spat with US to resume By Anindita Ramaswamy, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Istanbul (dpa) - The trial of an evangelical US pastor at the centre of a diplomatic row between Washington and Ankara resumes on Friday in the Aegean province of Izmir amidst high expectations for his release.

Ismail Cem Halavurt, the lawyer for Andrew Brunson, told dpa this week that he expects the court to lift the house arrest and travel ban imposed on the clergyman.

US media meanwhile reported that the White House had come to a "secret deal" with Ankara, in which Brunson would be released and some charges against him dropped in exchange for the easing of economic pressure on Turkey.

The 50-year-old pastor from Black Mountain in the US state of North Carolina, who is being tried on espionage and terrorism-related charges, was detained in October 2016 and arrested that December.

He is accused of links to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who lives in exile in the US and whom Turkey blames for a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Brunson is also accused of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers‘ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday releasing Brunson would be "the right thing" for Turkey to do.

"It‘s the humanitarian thing for Turkey to do, and I‘m very hopeful that before too long, Pastor Brunson will - he and his wife will - be able to return to the United States," Pompeo said at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America in Washington.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Brunson‘s fate can only be decided in court and that he can‘t interfere with the judiciary.

"I am the president of the Turkish Republic, a democratic and constitutional state," Erdogan told journalists on his way back from Hungary this week.

"Hence, I must obey whatever the decision the judiciary gives. All related parties must follow the judicial rulings. That‘s it," he was quoted as saying by Hurriyet daily on Thursday.

The prosecutor is demanding 35 years in prison for the US preacher.

Brunson, who came with his wife to Turkey in 1993 and eventually led the Izmir Resurrection Church, has denied all the charges.

His trial began in April and he was moved to house arrest in July after spending about a year and a half behind bars.

US President Donald Trump said when the trial started that he believed Brunson "was being persecuted in Turkey for no reason."

The court in Izmir - where Brunson lived and served for two decades - has so far refused to release him from house arrest and lift the travel ban against him.

In August, after the court refused to release him, Trump said Turkey may face further punitive measures.

"Turkey has been a problem for a long time. They have not acted as a friend," Trump said. "They should have given him back a long time ago. Turkey in my opinion has acted very, very badly."

The US president added: "We have not seen the last of that. We will not take it sitting down. They cannot take our people."

On October 3, Halavurt filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court, Turkey‘s highest court, for Brunson‘s release from house arrest.

The case has strained relations between the US and Turkey with the NATO allies imposing tit-for-tat sanctions on each other‘s ministers, as well as tariffs on imports. The impasse has also triggered a currency crisis in Turkey.

Erdogan has pointed fingers at the US for the lira‘s turmoil and called it an "economic assassination attempt." The lira has lost more than 40 per cent of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

The US-Turkey relationship was already frayed over the war in Syria, Turkey‘s decision to buy a Russian air defence system, the conviction in New York of a former employee of Turkish state lender Halkbank for violating US sanctions on Iran, and efforts to block the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.


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