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Erdogan Demands U.S. Extradite Exiled Cleric He Blames For Coup

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters outside of his residence in Istanbul, Turkey on July 19.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the United States should extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey over his alleged involvement in last weekend's failed coup.

"We have a mutual agreement on extradition of criminals," Erdogan told CNN on July 18. "There should be reciprocity in these types of things, even if he is a citizen of the United States."

"The U.S. should not keep such a terrorist," Erdogan said. "The United States has to extradite that individual to Turkey."

Erdogan told CNN his government would file an official extradition request within days.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Washington might consider extradition, but it will require not "allegations" but "evidence" that could prove the cleric's wrongdoing in a U.S. court of law.

Gulen, a reclusive figure who resides in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania where he is receiving medical treatment, once again denied any involvement in the coup attempt on July 18 and expressed confidence the United States will not hand him over to Erdogan.

U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup.
U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup.

"I have no concerns, personally," Gulen said in an interview with media outlets at his compound in the town of Saylorsburg, where has lived since 1999 when he went into self-imposed exile there.

The United States "is a country of law," he said. "The rule of law reigns supreme here. I don't believe this government will pay attention to anything that is not legally sound.

"As a side note, I will die one day. Whether I die in my bed or in prison, I don't care," said Gulen, 75.

The Turkish government previously sought unsuccessfully to extradite Gulen after a corruption scandal shook the country in 2013 and triggered the resignation of three ministers.

"Because those were not legal demands, the U.S. government...did not take them seriously," Gulen said. "They were not acceptable, reasonable, and legal requests...Now, through this attempted coup, it looks like they have strengthened their hands. They will attempt to do the same thing."

While he may not be concerned about his own fate, the opposition leader said he was very worried about worsening relations between the United States and Turkey in the wake of the weekend's upheaval.

He recalled that Turkish troops fought alongside their American counterparts during the Korean War and that the two nations have been close allies for the decades since Turkey joined NATO in 1952.

"If it is separated from NATO, Turkey would go into a chaos of problems. It would evaporate itself. It would really finish itself," Gulen said. "The United States could find other options, but I think Turkey needs the United States' partnership more than the U.S. needs Turkish partnership."

Turkey has sacked almost 9,000 officials in its crackdown against suspected plotters of the coup attempt since July 16, in which more than 300 people were killed.

In his interview with CNN, Erdogan bristled at the suggestion that the coup attempt is providing him with a pretext for a crackdown on all opponents, not just those who organized the putsch.

"It's just libel," he said. "If Tayyip Erdogan was an oppressive figure, he wouldn't have gotten 52 percent of the vote at the presidential elections."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP