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Biden Rebukes Turkey Over Free-Speech Crackdown

  • Dorian Jones

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, talks during a meeting with Turkish civil society groups on first day of his visit to Turkey, in Istanbul, Jan. 22, 2016.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, talks during a meeting with Turkish civil society groups on first day of his visit to Turkey, in Istanbul, Jan. 22, 2016.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden rebuked Turkey on Friday for its crackdown on freedom of expression.

Biden told civil society representatives in Istanbul that the Turkish government is not setting the right "example" with its imprisonment of journalists and investigation of academics who have criticized the government's military campaign against Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeastern sector.

In an unusually strong criticism of Washington's NATO ally, Biden said, "When the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when Internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down, and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that's not the kind of example that needs to be set."

Before the meeting, Biden told reporters, "The more Turkey succeeds, the stronger the message sent to the entire Middle East and parts of the world who are only beginning to grapple with the notion of freedom."

He said Washington wants Turkey to set a "strong example" for the Middle East of what a "vibrant democracy" means.

Biden criticized the November jailing of Cumhuriyet daily editor-in-chief Can Dundar and its Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, on charges of revealing classified information.

The U.S. vice president also lamented Turkey's widespread investigation of more than 1,200 academics who signed a petition attacking Turkey's military campaign against Kurdish strongholds in the country. About two dozen academics were detained for questioning. They all were released but remain under investigation.

Turkey also has blocked feeds in the country from YouTube, Twitter and other social networks.

Biden, on a two-day visit to Istanbul, is set to meet Saturday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Biden has several issues on his agenda for the bilateral talks, including pushing Turkey to do more to prevent jihadist infiltration through its border with Syria.

Syrian Kurdish militia

The visit comes as Ankara demands Washington rein in recent gains by the Syrian Kurdish militia, the PYG, against Islamic State militants.

Turkey accuses the Syrian Kurdish militia of being linked to PKK rebels, which Turkish forces are fighting.

On Thursday, the White House said Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum.

Washington said Biden urged the Iraqi leader to continue discussions with Turkey over the presence of its troops in northern Iraq. Late last year, Turkey deployed about 150 troops to the Bashiqa area, saying the soldiers would be used to train an Iraqi militia to fight Islamic State militants.

Reunification plans

Discussions on the reunification of Cyprus will be part of Biden's agenda as well.

"The reunification talks are going very well; the president of the Republic of Cyprus has just announced a deal can be secured in the course of this year, and the Americans are very active behind the scenes in these talks, together with the United Nations," said political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University.

Turkey, Greece and Britain are guarantor countries of Cyprus. Ankara has committed itself to ongoing unification efforts, which observers say Biden has been involved in for decades.

Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Turkey does not recognize the south.

Dorian Jones contributed to this story from Istanbul, Ken Bredemeier contributed to this story in Washington.

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