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Erdogan Says U.s. Has ‘no Excuse’ To Keep Turkey Coup Suspect Gulen

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he would tell U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Washington has “no excuse” for not handing over a Pennsylvania-based cleric that Ankara blames for last month’s failed coup.

Erdogan, who is due to meet Biden in Ankara later in the day, said Turkey would continue to provide U.S. officials with documents to demand the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

Shortly before Biden’s arrival, Turkish forces launched a major operation inside Syria to clear Islamic State militants out of the Syrian frontier town Jarablus, backed by U.S.-led coalition warplanes.

Gulen, once an Erdogan ally, denies any involvement in the July 15 coup attempt and has condemned it. But Turkish officials say a network of Gulen supporters infiltrated Turkey’s military and public offices for years to create a “parallel state”.

“We will tell him that FETO’s leader is in your country,” Erdogan said, using an acronym for the Gulenist Terror Organisation, the name Ankara has given Gulen’s network. “If a country wants a criminal in your country to be extradited, you have no right to argue with that.”

Erdogan said Ankara and Washington were strategic partners and keeping Gulen would not benefit the United States.

Ankara will probably send the United States a coup-related extradition request for Gulen next week, the Turkish justice minister said on Wednesday.

Washington has said it needs clear evidence to extradite Gulen. Its failure to do so, and the perception of a slow response to the coup from Western allies, has angered Erdogan and chilled relations with Washington and the European Union.

The U.S. State Department said this week that documents submitted so far by Ankara constituted a formal extradition request, although not on issues related to the coup.

Biden, who arrived in Turkey on Wednesday, was guided by Turkish officials around the parliament, which was bombed during the coup attempt. He is also expected to meet the prime minister.

Rogue troops commandeered tanks, jets and helicopters to attack state institutions in Istanbul and Ankara in the failed coup bid that killed 241 people and prompted a purge of thousands of suspected Gulen followers in the armed forces and civil service.

Since the coup attempt, Western allies have been concerned that Erdogan is using the crackdown to curb broader dissent. More than 80,000 people have been dismissed from public sector jobs. Nearly 40,000 people have been detained.

Turkish authorities fired more than 2,800 judges and prosecutors on Wednesday, in the latest purge related to the coup, broadcaster CNN Turk reported.

Turkey is both a NATO member and part of the U.S. coalition in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

But U.S.-Ankara relations have been complicated by that conflict. Washington backs the Syrian Kurdish YPG rebels against Islamic State. Ankara is worried the YPG’s advance emboldens Kurdish insurgents in its mainly Kurdish southeast.