Istanbul: The main opposition candidate in Turkey’s upcoming presidential elections has threatened to shut down a key American military base by Christmas unless the United States extradites a Muslim preacher accused by Ankara of the failed 2016 coup.
Turkish authorities have repeatedly asked Washington to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania and who is blamed for orchestrating the 2016 coup aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Gulen has strongly denied the charges, and Washington has so far shown no interest in delivering the Turkish request.
Washington must “extradite Fethullah Gulen from the United States,” Muharrem Ince, presidential candidate from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Turkey’s Fox TV in an interview late on Wednesday.
“If you (the United States) don’t hand him back, we will shut down Incirlik and send back US soldiers on December 24 and they can celebrate Christmas with their families,” he added.
The United States maintains a key base at Incirlik, a military airport located in southern Turkey, as a hub for operations against the Islamic State extremist group.
It also houses a stockpile of dozens of American tactical nuclear weapons.
The base was raided by the Turkish authorities after being used by rebel officers in the coup plot on July 15, 2016.
Ince, 54, is seeking to convince voters he is a credible choice as he runs against Erdogan in the June 24 elections, which will be a landmark in modern Turkish history.
His comments took some observers by surprise, given the secular CHP has generally been considered to be more pro-American that Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
After the vote, a new presidential system giving the head of state with executive powers will come into force.