In her first visit to Ankara as head of government and following a meeting with US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK and Turkey would increase trade, after a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Saturday.
Amid criticism of human rights violations in Turkey following a botched coup on July 15, May briefly touched upon the issue of democracy when speaking with reporters at the presidential palace in Ankara. Praising the Turkish people’s defense of democracy against the coup attempt, she said, “I’m proud that the UK stood with you on July 15 last year in defense of democracy.”
She also added that “now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do.”
May has been looking for alternative trade deals in the post-Brexit era. The UK voted to leave the European Union in a June 2016 referendum which requires new agreements with all EU members.
May and Erdoğan also reportedly discussed issues of Cyprus and Syria.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Middle East analyst Patrick Cockburn wrote in the Independent that the talks with Erdoğan will be seen as endorsing the destruction of Turkish democracy. He claimed that Erdoğan is replacing democracy with a presidential system as dictatorial and repressive as anything seen in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, European Parliament’s former liberal member from UK, Andrew Duff wrote in a Twitter post that Turkey-UK talks in Ankara includes “arms sales”.
TRADE AND SECURITY AMID POST-COUP HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
A spokeswoman for the British Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday that May and Erdoğan are expected to announce that they have established a working group to discuss the possibilities of a new bilateral trade deal after Brexit.
“On the issues of freedom of the press and human rights, if they come up, she will state her view, which is unchanged. She has been clear about the importance of press freedom and human rights,” British The Guardian daily quoted the spokeswoman saying.
When asked whether May would criticize the crackdown, spokeswoman said: “We have already expressed our strong support for Turkey’s democracy and institutions following the coup – but we have also been clear that we urge Turkey to ensure that their response is proportionate, justified and in line with international human rights obligations.”
Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others and Erdoğan and the Turkish government immediately put the blame for the July 15 failed coup attempt on the faith-based Gülen movement
Strongly denying having any role in the putsch, Fethullah Gülen, whose views inspired the Gülen movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
More than 135,000 people have been purged from state bodies, in excess of 90,000 detained and over 43,000 have been arrested since the coup attempt. Arrestees include journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics, governors and even a comedian. Critics argue that lists of Gülen sympathizers were drawn up prior to the coup attempt.