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Turkish Parliament approves troop deployment to Qatar amid diplomatic crisis

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The Turkish Parliament on Wednesday approved legislation allowing its troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar amid a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed relations with Doha and closed their airspace to Qatari commercial flights on Monday, accusing it of financing terrorist groups.

The bill, which was first drafted in May, passed in Parliament with 240 votes in favor, largely with support from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

According to the bill, the cooperation between Qatar and Turkey will primarily involve modernization of Qatar’s military as well as expanding cooperation in training and war exercises. The bill did not specify how many troops would go nor when, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Turkey set up a military base in Qatar, its first such installation in the Middle East, as part of an agreement signed in 2014. In 2016, Ahmet Davutoğlu, then Turkish prime minister, visited the base where 150 personnel are already stationed.

In an interview with Reuters in late 2015, Ahmet Demirok, Turkey’s ambassador to Qatar at the time, said 3,000 ground troops would eventually be deployed to a base that was primarily to serve as a venue for joint training exercises.

Earlier on Wednesday, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) warned Turkey’s AKP government to avoid involvement in the crisis.

At a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday in advance of a Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting, CHP Deputy Chairman Bülent Tezcan said: “We strongly recommend [the AKP government] not make statements [on the Qatar crisis]. We have to maintain our neutrality at this time. Turkey must be part of the solution, not the crisis. We recommend the [AKP] government give up its relations with İhvan (Muslim Brotherhood). Otherwise, it will end up with serious problems and disasters.”

CHP Deputy Chairman Öztürk Yılmaz also said: “With these agreements, Turkey is making a choice, and by standing by Qatar it is taking on the other countries. This is a wrong policy,” adding, “How will you be a mediator if you are taking sides?”

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain accuse the Doha administration of financing militant groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Qatar strongly denies the accusations. It is the worst split between powerful Arab states in decades.

Earlier on Wednesday, Reuters reported that Qatar is in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies amid concerns of possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, cut trade and diplomatic ties with the import-dependent country.

Ankara’s move appears to support the Gulf Arab country when it faces diplomatic and trade isolation from some of the biggest Middle Eastern powers.

I do not approve of Qatar being seen as terror suspect. If this were the case, I would be the first president to take a stand against [Qatar],” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in Ankara on Tuesday, adding: “Here a different game is being played. We have not yet been able to find out who is behind this game.”

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