Turkey has found itself in a diplomatic tug-of-war with European countries over allegations of political espionage against Turkish citizens, opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, living in Europe ahead of a constitutional referendum at home.
The fallout of Turkey’s most important popular vote, which has the potential to upset and alter the roots of its century-old political system, has spurred complications and tension in relations with EU countries.
After experienced similar disputes over spying activities with Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, tensions broke out between the Switzerland and Turkey in the latest episode of espionage saga.
In February, the German police raided apartments of 4 Turkish imams in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate over charges of spying for the Turkish government.
The Swiss prosecutors are currently investigating after they said they had concrete indications over political espionage.
It came a day after warning from Swiss foreign minister to his Turkish counterpart that the Swiss authorities would probe any illegal intelligence activities in their country.
The Swiss investigation follows alleged political intelligence gathering in which participants at events at the University of Zurich in late 2016 and early 2017 were filmed or photographed, Reuters reported.
The centerpiece of the escalation of tension is about Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to reach votes of the more than 4 million Turks in Europe for his bid to expand his presidential powers in Turkey. To lure Euro-Turks, Mr. Erdogan’s ministers held political campaigns in various European cities but were blocked in Germany and the Netherlands.
That set off a fierce diplomatic controversy and showdown, culminating in mutual recriminations that contained Nazi accusations from the Turkish side.
Mr. Erdogan’s Nazi remarks against Germany and Europe was the tipping point for the European leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who swiftly rebuked Nazi comparisons.
Switzerland, home to more than 70,000 Turkish nationals, tried to say aloof the row that enveloped Germany and other countries. But allegations of spying against Mr. Erdogan’s critics came to surface last month, prompting Swiss lawmakers to call for thorough investigations into activities of pro-Erdogan organizations in the country.
The office of Swiss attorney general said in a written statement that it “has been made aware of concrete suspicion that political espionage has likely been conducted involving the Turkish community in Switzerland.”
Turkey responded in a different way. The Turkish foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Ankara to convey Turkey’s dismay over an anti-Erdogan protest in Bern.
Kurdish groups held a rally in which they expressed support for the ‘No’ campaign and protest Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown in the southeast. Some of them were carrying portraits of PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. That was enough to alarm the Turkish officials who criticized the Swiss government for allowing the rally to take place.
But a poster featuring a gun pointed at President Erdogan, and contained a call ‘Kill Erdogan’ caused a much bigger problem. Ankara demanded an investigation into the poster. The Swiss authorities told media that an investigation was launched to find out who brought the protest to the rally.
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