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Turkey Trials Seen in New Light After Erdogan’s Istanbul Defeat

ISTANBUL — Two days after a crushing defeat in which his candidate lost the election for mayor of Istanbul, attention in Turkey was turning on Tuesday to how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would handle three important political trials scheduled for this week.

The trials will be closely watched by foreign governments, which have been troubled by Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to crack down on huge swathes of the opposition after a failed coup attempt in 2016.

In light of the results in Istanbul, a sliding economy and escalating foreign policy problems — the threat of sanctions from the United States over his purchase of the S400 Russian missile system, to a refugee crisis brewing in Idlib, Syria, to European opposition to Turkish drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean — the dynamic for Mr. Erdogan is changing rapidly.

Mr. Erdogan will discuss a cabinet reshuffle when he meets with party leaders on Tuesday, and observers are watching to see if he will soften his aggressive prosecution of people who are widely regarded as pawns.

Sixteen civil society activists went on trial Monday accused of trying to overthrow the government for their participation in the Taksim square protests of 2013, and two Turkish employees of the United States Consulate in Istanbul are scheduled to appear in court this week.

One of the consulate employees, Mete Canturk, who has been living under house arrest since October 2017, was scheduled to begin his trial on Tuesday. Metin Topuz, an employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has been in jail since the same date and will appear in court in his ongoing trial on Friday.

Mr. Canturk’s wife and daughter are also on trial, all accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization, an accusation that United States Embassy officials say are baseless

Those trials will coincide with another high-profile legal case, that of Osman Kavala, one of the country’s most prominent political prisoners, who is often described as the George Soros of Turkey.

The cases have been described by diplomats and human rights organizations as a strategy of hostage diplomacy on the part of Mr. Erdogan as he negotiates his various disputes with foreign governments.

Mr. Erdogan suffered a damaging political defeat over the weekend, when his party’s candidate for Istanbul mayor was soundly defeated by the opposition candidate in an election that came about only after the president pushed for a redo following a first vote in March.

His Justice and Development Party, the A.K.P., had controlled Istanbul, his hometown, for 25 years, but voters there emphatically rejected his leadership, with the opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, significantly increasing his margin of victory in the second round of voting against Binali Yildirim, who was backed by Mr. Erdogan.

That result has raised the question of whether Mr. Erdogan, who has been in charge for 16 years and has taken measures to increase his grip on power, is now politically vulnerable.

Source: NYT > World

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