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Erdogan Defends Arrest of US Consulate Employee

People wait in front of the visa application office entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 9, 2017.
People wait in front of the visa application office entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 9, 2017.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is defending the arrest of a U.S. consulate employee, accusing him of being a spy.

"How did these spies infiltrate the American consulate? If they didn't infiltrate the American consulate, who put them there?'' Erdogan said, speaking Tuesday alongside Serbia's president in Belgrade. "No state would allow such spies that pose an internal threat.''

Last week, Turkey arrested Metin Topuz, a U.S. consulate employee and Turkish national, accusing him of regular communication with alleged leading members of what Turkey has deemed a terrorist network blamed for a failed coup against Erdogan last year. Turkey has said it will also be questioning a second consulate employee.

The arrest led to a diplomatic feud between the two countries in recent days. Following the arrest, the U.S. embassy in Ankara announced that it would temporary halt all non-immigrant visa applications - a move that was quickly mirrored by Turkey.

A statement Sunday from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said, "Recent events have forced the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel." The statement did not say how long the suspension would last.

The statement added, "In order to minimize the number of visitors to our Embassy and Consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey."

Hours later, Turkey retaliated by announcing its own suspension of visa services in the United States, using language that parroted the U.S. statement and reasons for the halt.

Applicants for these visas said that upon going to the embassy for their appointments, they were simply given a piece of paper instructing them to call a phone number for more information.

"I came here for my appointment, which was confirmed, I want to reiterate that," Ali Guney, a visa applicant, told VOA Turkish.

"But the security gave me this paper, saying we can contact them via the phone number written on it and get information. I’ve called this number over and over again but don’t have any results. A voicemail operator answers, no real person behind, and no one gives any further information in the consulate. I don’t know what I am going to do, just sitting in this cafe, waiting."

Omer Yavuz, who had planned to travel to Houston, Texas to visit his cousin, said he also was told to call the number but has received no response.

"No one is giving any complete information," he said, adding that he anticipates having to cancel his plans.

VOA Turkish contributed to this report.

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