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Trump warns Turkey after court rejects freedom for US pastor

President Donald J. Trump (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Only hours after a Turkish court rejected an appeal on Friday for the release of a U.S. pastor from house arrest, President Donald Trump said Ankara had acted “very, very badly” in the case and the United States was “not going to take it sitting down.”

Turkey has been holding pastor Andrew Brunson for two years on charges that he is linked to the Fethullah Gülen Movement, which Turkey says was responsible for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

The 50-year-old pastor and the U.S. government vehemently deny those charges.

“They made up this phony charge that he is a spy, and he is not a spy,” Trump told reporters.

A higher court in Izmir upheld a lower-court decision that rejected the lifting of Brunson’s house arrest, according to the state-run Anadolu agency and the newspaper HaberTurk. It also rejected an appeal for his travel ban to be lifted, Anadolu reported.

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“They should have given him back a long time ago,” the president said. “And Turkey has in my opinion acted very very badly. We haven’t seen the last of that. We are not going to stake it sitting down. They can’t take our people.”

Even before Friday’s court decision, Trump — who calls Brunson “our wonderful Christian pastor” — had warned of new economic sanctions if the protestant clergyman is not freed

“We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!!” he said in a tweet Friday.

The U.S. recently slapped financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey over the pastor’s continued detention, causing economic upheaval in Turkey.

In retaliation, Turkey on Wednesday imposed tariffs on certain U.S. goods.

The Turkish lira fell 5 percent Friday after the Turkish court released its decision.

Brunson, who attended Wheaton College, has lived in Turkey for more than two decades as pastor of a small local church. Vice President Mike Pence has been especially outspoken on the Brunson case, particularly before Christian audiences.

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On Tuesday, Pence tweeted that Brunson is innocent and “justice demands that he be released.” He said Turkey would “do well not to test @POTUS Trump’s resolve” over the issue.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has bristled at such U.S. pressure.

“I call out to those in the United States. It is a shame,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday. “You are trading a strategic NATO ally for a priest.”

Brunson was indicted on charges of “acting in a parallel and coordinated fashion” with Turkey’s two chief enemies: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and a network run by Gülen.

U.S. authorities have rebuffed efforts by Turkey for the extradition of Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Erdogan, hinting at a trade for Brunson, said in a speech last year that if the U.S. turned over Gülen to the Turkish authorities “we will do what we can in the judiciary to give you this one.”

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© 2018 USA Today

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.