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Asylum of Turkish soldier suspended by Greek court pending legal review

Turkish officers are escorted by Greek special police forces as they leave the Greek Supreme Court in Athens, after a hearing concerning a possible extradition of the officers over July's failed coup in Turkey, on January 23, 2017 in Athens. The case involves eight Turkish military officers who arrived in the northern Greek city of Alexandroupolis on the same helicopter in July 16, 2017, a day after a botched coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since the coup, many Turkish military officers have requested asylum in other NATO countries. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS

A Greek appeals court on Monday issued a temporary injunction suspending the asylum status granted to a Turkish soldier who fled with seven other military members to Greece following a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, Reuters reported.

The court in Athens upheld a request by the Greek government to suspend a decision made by an independent asylum council on Dec. 29. The Greek government has said the issue, which threatens already tense relations with Turkey, is politically too important to be decided by an administrative body.

The court said it was granting the order “for reasons of public interest” until a court hearing on the asylum board’s decision scheduled for Feb. 15.

The soldier was detained by authorities on Monday after the court asked authorities to refrain from taking any action that could cause the man to leave Greece.

Turkey has demanded the extradition of the soldiers, who it calls traitors. Greece has made clear it does not want the soldiers in the country; government officials have said that individuals suspected of any involvement in the coup are not welcome.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of reneging on a promise to have the soldiers sent back within days of them fleeing to Greece. Greece disputes that account, saying the issue is up to courts.

But since then, Greek courts have ruled out the extradition of the eight to Turkey. Turkey accuses Greece of harboring putschists, Greece denies it and says its judiciary is independent.

Süleyman Özkaynakçı, the copilot of the helicopter used in the escape, was granted asylum on Dec. 29 and released by a ruling of the 3rd Independent Secondary Asylum Committee, while the other seven remain in custody.

The three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors landed a helicopter in Greece on July 16 and sought asylum, saying they feared for their lives in Turkey, where authorities have purged large numbers from the military and civil service.

They were ordered to be held in detention until their asylum applications are processed.

Turkish President Erdoğan and his government accuse the faith-based Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup on July 15, 2016.

Despite the movement strongly denying involvement in the putsch, Erdoğan launched a witch-hunt targeting it.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 12 that 55,665 people had been jailed and 234,419 passports revoked as part of investigations into the Gülen movement since the failed coup attempt last July.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016 through government decrees issued as part of an ongoing state of emergency.

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