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Exiled Turkish cleric denies involvement in coup plot

Published 17/07/2016

Fethullah Gulen denies plotting to overthrow the Turkish government (AP)
Fethullah Gulen denies plotting to overthrow the Turkish government (AP)

The exiled Muslim cleric accused by Turkey's president of orchestrating a failed coup has said he had no knowledge of the plot.

Fethullah Gulen told reporters at his Pennsylvania compound he knew only a "minute fraction" of his legions of sympathisers in Turkey, so he could not speak of their "potential involvement" in the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"You can think about many motivations of people who staged this coup. They could be sympathisers of the opposition party. They could be sympathisers of the nationalist party. It could be anything," Mr Gulen, who has lived in the US for more than 15 years, said through an interpreter.

The reclusive cleric, who very rarely speaks to reporters, talked about the failed overthrow attempt shortly after Mr Erdogan demanded that the United States extradite him.

US secretary of state John Kerry said the Obama administration would consider an extradition request but Turkey would have to prove wrongdoing by Mr Gulen.

Looking frail, Mr Gulen, who is in his mid-70s, sat on a sofa in a large reception room outside his living quarters, with an aide taking his blood pressure before the news conference.

He said he would not have returned to Turkey even if the coup had succeeded, fearing he would be "persecuted and harassed".

"This is a tranquil and clean place and I enjoy and I live my freedom here. Longing for my homeland burns in my heart, but freedom is also equally important," said MrGulen, who lives on the grounds of the Golden Generation Worship & Retreat Centre in Saylorsburg, an Islamic retreat founded by Turkish-Americans.

He has criticised Mr Erdogan, his one-time ally, over the Turkish leader's increasingly authoritarian rule.

The Erdogan regime has launched a broad campaign against Mr Gulen's movement in Turkey and abroad, purging civil servants suspected of ties to the movement, seizing businesses and closing some media organisations.

In the United States, a lawyer hired by the Turkish government has lodged numerous accusations against a network of about 150 publicly-funded charter schools started by followers of Mr Gulen, whose philosophy blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and inter-faith dialogue.

Nobody associated with the US schools has been charged with wrongdoing.

On Saturday, Mr Gulen denounced Mr Erdogan over what he called the government's "repression and persecution" of Mr Gulen's followers in Turkey.

"It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organisation that is not under their total control," he said.

Given the chance to deliver a message directly to the Turkish leader, Mr Gulen demurred.

"If I were to send him a message, he would probably consider it as a slur and reject it," he said. "But I have always prayed for myself and for him. I have prayed to God to lead us to the straight path, to the virtuous path."

About 150 supporters of Mr Erdogan protested outside the compound on Saturday, chanting and waving signs.

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