USA sanctions Turkish officials over pastor's detention

Demiroren News Agency  AFP  File  STRAndrew Brunson spent almost two years in jail after his initial detention in October 2016

Demiroren News Agency AFP File STRAndrew Brunson spent almost two years in jail after his initial detention in October 2016

The Turkish government arrested Brunson in Izmir in 2016 for allegedly aiding a failed military coup, accusations the pastor denies. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in jail.

In a tweet translated by the state-run Anadolu news agency, Cavusoglu also vowed that the "US attempt to impose sanctions on our two ministers will not go unanswered".

"Turkey knows our position well: Pastor Brunson must be released from house arrest and brought back home", Pompeo's spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters travelling with him.

Turkey blames Brunson for collaborating with American-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and the Kurdistan Workers' Party for trying to overthrow the government.

In this case, the Treasury Department showed greater creativity in the use of financial sanctions to target just two senior officials - one of whom said on Twitter he had no US holdings - in order to send a clear message to a foreign ally.

Wednesday's measures block the two ministers' assets in the U.S. and prohibits American citizens from "engaging in transactions with them".

In a statement announcing the sanctions, the US Department of the Treasury said Gul and Soylu are the leaders of organisations that have engaged in "serious human rights abuse".

As Trump threatened Turkey with sanctions on Twitter last week, Erdogan shrugged off the threat, saying the U.S. is in no position to force Ankara back down.

He said Erdogan overestimated the significance of his personal relationship with Trump, given growing impatience with Turkey in Congress, the State Department, and Pentagon.

Late on Wednesday, Turkey's foreign ministry said it will retaliate against Washington's decision, calling it a "hostile stance".

"The aggressive attitude of the US serves no goal", it said in a statement, adding that Turkey would reciprocate "without delay". "There's no credible evidence of any wrongdoing against him", Pence said.

Pompeo said Trump had decided that sanctions were "the appropriate action".

"They can not make Turkey back down with sanctions", Erdogan said to Turkish media.

Turkey's foreign ministry did not waste time in hitting back, saying: "There is no doubt that this will greatly damage constructive efforts working to solve the issues between the two countries".

Last week, Brunson was allowed to leave prison and remain under house arrest, but his request to leave Turkey was denied.

Last week, Ankara rebuked Trump's threats, which had been echoed by his Vice President Mike Pence.

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