Fethullah Gulen, an exiled religious leader blamed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for this month's coup attempt in Turkey, said in an interview Friday that the United States will not hand him over to Ankara.
"It is very clear that this demand is politically motivated, and I am confident the facts will bear that out. I have repeatedly denounced the coup attempt and emphatically reject any involvement therein," Gulen told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The preacher's followers in Turkey are being purged from state institutions. So far, 66,000 alleged Gulenists have been suspended from the civil service.
Interior Minister Efkan Ala said more than 49,000 people had their passports revoked. He confirmed more than 18,000 people have been detained since the bloody July 15 coup attempt and 9,677 are under arrest.
A government official said 3,500 of those detained were later released.
Among those for whom detention orders have been issued are dozens of journalists and media workers.
A prosecutor asked for 20 of the 21 journalists who have been detained to be formally arrested, while one was freed with restrictions, broadcaster NTV reported.
The government also canceled 330 press cards since the coup effort, state broadcaster TRT reported.
Amnesty International this week warned of torture in Turkish prisons and some of the top officials arrested - including about 150 generals - were paraded in front of cameras showing signs of severe beatings.
Speaking from his rural home in Pennsylvania, Gulen noted that the US has so far not confirmed receiving any extradition requests from Turkey. "I am not worried and will cooperate with the US authorities," he added.
Gulen was a long-time ally of Erdogan, but the two had a public falling-out amid disputes over domestic and foreign policy over the past several years. In the Corriere interview, the preacher said power had gone to the Turkish leader's head.
"It appears that after staying in power for too long, President Erdogan and his party are suffering from power poisoning," he said. "I can see now that I gave them too much credit. I regret having had faith that they were sincere in what they promised to deliver."
The 75-year-old insisted he had nothing to do with the failed putsch that left more than 260 people dead and triggered a harsh response from Erdogan and his allies. About 66,000 civil servants have been suspended, and more than 8,100 people are under arrest.
"If individuals who read my works, listened to my talks or sympathized with my worldview were involved in the coup, then that would be a betrayal of my core values," Gulen said.
He confirmed his support for Turkey's European Union bid, which is at risk of being suspended by Brussels if Erdogan goes ahead with reintroducing the death penalty.
"I believe Turkey’s membership in the EU is the best way to ensure Turkey remains democratic and that fundamental rights and freedoms are protected," Gul said. "Europe does have leverage to influence Turkey in a positive way."
Turkey's Supreme Military Council meet this week for the first time since the coup attempt. The chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, kept his post. Some other top generals, from those who were not purged, were shifted.
Turkey declared a state of emergency after the coup, allowing Erdogan and the government to rule by decree. Opposition groups have expressed concerns about abuse of power, noting the president had already been leaning towards authoritarianism.
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