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U.S., Turkey In Tit-For-Tat Suspension Of Visas Services Over Arrest Of Employee

The US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

The United States and Turkey are mutually restricting visa services after a U.S. Consulate employee of Turkish nationality was arrested in Istanbul on espionage charges.

The diplomatic tit-for-tat between the two longtime allies began on October 8, when Washington's Embassy in Ankara said the United States was suspending all nonimmigrant visa services in Turkey following the arrest of the employee.

The statement said recent events had forced it to "reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel."

It added that the suspension of nonimmigrant visas was "effective immediately." Immigrant visas are for those seeking to live in the United States permanently.

Turkey responded late in the day, announcing it had "suspended all nonimmigrant visa service" at Turkish diplomatic facilities in the United States.

However, a later Turkish statement appeared to go further, saying that "effective immediately, we have suspended all visa services" regarding U.S. citizens at "our diplomatic and consular missions," leaving some uncertainty as to the measures being taken and where they would apply.

The latest dispute arose after Turkish media reported that a local employee working at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was remanded in custody by a court on October 4 on accusations of links to the group of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says orchestrated last year's failed coup against the government.

Ankara has pressed Washington for Gulen's extradition. The cleric has denied any link to the July 2016 coup attempt.

The arrested man, identified as Metin Topuz, has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

On October 5, the U.S. Embassy said the United States was "deeply disturbed" over the arrest, adding, "We believe these allegations to be wholly without merit."

Despite being NATO allies, tension between the two countries have risen over the fate of Gulen and because of the U.S. military’s support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria in that country’s six-year civil war.

Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the banned PKK, which has waged an insurgency for three decades in southeast Turkey.

Turkey and the United States are also battling over moves by U.S. prosecutors to charge 15 members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail following a brawl in Washington on May 16.

The 15 Turkish security officers were among 19 people that U.S. prosecutors said were indicted by a grand jury in connection with the fight that broke out between protesters and Erdogan's detail outside the Turkish ambassador's residence.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has protested what it called "biased" charges by the U.S. prosecutors.

The United States, along with many other Western nations, has also been highly critical of Turkey’s crackdown on dissent since the 2016 coup against the Erdogan's government.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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