Trump congratulates Erdogan on referendum victory

Presidents discuss US military strikes on Syrian air base in phone call on Monday

Opponents of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call for referendum result to be nullified amid claims of voting irregularities. Video: Reuters


US president Donald Trump called Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country.

After noting Mr Trump’s congratulations, a brief read-out of the phone call read at the White House on Monday night pivoted to a recent US missile strike on a Syrian airfield, which it said Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan had also discussed.

The statement did not say whether Mr Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency. The US state department noted both issues in a more cautious, less laudatory statement issued a few hours earlier.

The White House was also silent about the long-term implications of the referendum, which some experts have likened to a deathblow to democracy in Turkey. Mr Erdogan’s narrow victory, in effect, ratifies his authoritarian rule.

The change to Turkey’s constitution will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the parliamentary political system.

In its statement, the US state department said: “We look to the government of Turkey to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens, regardless of their vote on April 16th, as guaranteed by the Turkish constitution and in accordance with Turkey’s international commitments, such as under the Helsinki Charter.” That document compels its signatory nations, including Turkey, to uphold human rights.

Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan are viewed as ideological bedfellows; populist leaders with little patience for the courts or other checks on their power. But Mr Erdogan has taken his authoritarian bent to an extreme, imposing the state of emergency and purging the opposition, academia and the army after a failed coup last year.

The White House emphasised that the two leaders were united in their determination to punish Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, for using chemical weapons against his own people.

“President Trump thanked president Erdogan for supporting this action by the United States, ” the statement said, referring to the April 6th missile attack in Syria.

It also stressed that the two men stand together in battling Islamic State, also known as Isis: “President Trump and president Erdogan also discussed the counter-Isis campaign and the need to co-operate against all groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends.”

New York Times