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Turkey summons US diplomat over a Twitter 'like'

Relations between Ankara and Washington have been rocky in recent years [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 October, 2019

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The US embassy said it had 'liked' the tweet 'by accident'.
Turkey on Sunday summoned a US diplomat after the embassy's Twitter account liked a tweet about a top nationalist politician who was recently in hospital, the Turkish foreign ministry said.

"Today the US charge d'affaires was summoned to the ministry to give an open and clear explanation of the social media posting," the ministry said.

It added that the Charge d'Affaires Jeffrey Hovenier was summoned as US Ambassador David Satterfield was not in Ankara on Sunday.

The embassy's official Twitter account had liked a tweet on Saturday in which an individual said Turkey should be ready for a political period without Devlet Bahceli.

Bahceli is the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the junior partner of an electoral alliance with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The two parties formerly entered into an alliance last year, but the MHP also backed the ruling party in a 2017 referendum advocating changing the Turkish constitution to transform the country's system into an executive presidency.

Bahceli, 71, was last month taken to hospital after suffering nausea but was released shortly after. Despite assurances, there have been concerns recently over his health.

The post was interpreted by pro-government media as suggesting the nationalist leader could soon die.

Adding to the controversy, the tweet was posted by Ergun Babahan, a journalist Turkey accuses of being a follower of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Babahan is the Turkish editor for Ahval, a UAE-funded news site accused of links to Gulen.

Gulen is accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt. Suspected supporters are deemed members of a terrorist organisation by Turkey.

The US embassy in Ankara apologised for the incident late on Saturday, noting that the "unrelated" post had been "liked by accident".

AKP spokesman Omer Celik said on Sunday that an apology would not be sufficient, suggesting the embassy launch an investigation into the posting.

"It shows that some people employed in the Embassy are making a special effort to damage the relations between the two countries," he said on Twitter.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained in recent years over multiple issues, including Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence systems and US backing for Syrian Kurdish forces viewed as a terrorist group by Turkey.

Nonetheless, the two NATO members remain allies, with Turkey and the US recently having agreed to work together towards building a "safe zone" in northeast Syria.

The endeavour has not been without tensions. Erdogan on Saturday renewed his threat to launch an air and ground operation against the US-backed Kurdish forces if Washington did not move fast enough to implement Ankara's wishes in the planned buffer zone.

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