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Turkey Demands Life Sentence for Jailed American Pastor

Turkish prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for an American pastor accused of being a member of the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup,  a case that has raised tensions with Washington, reports said Tuesday.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by the Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. He is charged in the indictment with belonging to the leadership of the group of preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, the Dogan news agency said.

Gulen, who is based in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and who Turkey wants to see extradited to face trial, denies the charges.

The case of Brunson has become one of several sticking points in relations between Turkey and its NATO ally. It has been raised by President Donald J. Trump in talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan had in September 2017 controversially suggested the United States could exchange Gulen for Brunson, a suggestion that was brushed off by Washington. “They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back,” Erdogan said then.

The evangelical pastor was initially detained along with his wife Norine although she was released in December 2016. Once the court accepts the indictment, a date for the trial will be set. The indictment, issued some one-and-a-half years after Brunson was first detained, highlights the severity of the case.

But there have been cases where the release of an indictment, especially in a case involving a foreigner, can speed its resolution. German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was released on February 16 after over a year in jail on the same day as prosecutors issued an indictment charging him with terror propaganda.

Despite hopes for a warming when Trump came to power, Turkey-U.S. relations have soured badly over American support for Kurdish militia in Syria and the detention of two Turkish nationals working for U.S. missions in Turkey.

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