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Kosovo's Haradinaj Rejects Erdogan's Criticism Of Firings Over Deported Turks

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (file photo)
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (file photo)

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has rejected criticism from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his dismissal last week of officials in Pristina who deported six Turkish citizens with ties to Erdogan's political foes.

Haradinaj, attending a ceremony on April 2 honoring a national hero who resisted Turkey's Ottoman Empire during the 15th century, said Erdogan should not "interfere in the internal affairs of Kosovo," just as Pristina does not meddle in Ankara's affairs.

Erdogan on March 31 had warned that Haradinaj would "pay" after he dismissed his interior minister and intelligence chief for deporting without his permission six Turks with ties to the movement of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt against his government.

Erdogan noted that Turkey was the second country in the world to recognize Kosovo after the United States, and said: "My question to Kosovo's prime minister is: under whose instructions did you undertake such actions? Since when have you started to defend those...who attempted a coup against Kosovo's brother country -- Turkey? You will answer for this!"

Turkey is a major supporter of impoverished Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Turkish firms run the tiny Balkan country's sole airport and electricity network, and are building two highways worth around $2 billion.

Human rights groups criticized Kosovo's deportation of the six Turks, whom Ankara had accused of helping people in Turkey who are affiliated with the Gulen movement to flee the country amid a crackdown by the government.

Ankara accuses Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States, of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt, and has declared his movement a terrorist organization.

Gulen's organization preaches against violence and denies any link with the abortive putsch.

With reporting by AP and Reuters