USA hits Turkey with sanctions over American pastor's detention

BERLIN GERMANY- JULY 15 Pro Erdogan Berlin Turks wave Turkish flags and one gives the hand sign of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organization as they gather in front of the Turkish Embassy to commemorate the first anniversary of the failed coup

Pastor Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen and a Turkish resident for over two decades, has been arrested as part of Ankara's probe into the 2016 failed military coup. It said Turkey would "respond in kind without delay" against what it described as an aggressive stance by the United States. He is facing up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of supporting the coup.

"We believe he's a victim of unfair and unjust detention", White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

The US imposed financial sanctions on Turkey's justice and interior ministers yesterday for detaining an American pastor accused of backing a coup attempt against President Erdogan.

While negotiations to release one of the people, evangelical Pastor Andrew Brunson, are ongoing, the preparation of the so-called "designation packages" shows how close the US has come to imposing unprecedented penalties against a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally.

Under the sanctions to be imposed by the Treasury Department, any property, or interest in property, belonging to Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul or Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction would be blocked. The sanctions against them prohibit US citizens from doing business with both men and block any of their property that rests within American jurisdiction.

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Treasury accused the two of "implementing Turkey's serious human rights abuses".

Turkish President Recep Erdogan defied calls from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to release Brunson earlier this week.

Imposing sanctions on senior government officials of an allied country is a major escalation and a reflection of just how dire relations between Washington and Ankara have grown in the two years since the coup attempt in Turkey.

The US has maintained that there is no credible evidence to support the charges brought against Brunson.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both warned Turkey last week that the United States would issue sanctions unless Turkey frees Brunson, who is now under house arrest after spending a year and a half in prison.

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"It is unacceptable for the U.S.to use a threatening language against Turkey, using an ongoing court case as a pretext", spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

"President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action", he said.

Other analysts said the sanctions on Turkish government officials would likely harden Turkey's position on other key issues.

Indeed, the Turkish currency slid to a record low after the White House announced the sanctions.

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