* Erdogan dragging Turkey to precipice, opposition head says
* Kavala in prison since late 2017 without conviction
* Turkish lira has fallen by nearly a quarter this year
* Polls show support for Erdogan falling ahead of 2023
ISTANBUL, Oct 24 (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan's
political opponents said on Sunday that his call to expel the
ambassadors of 10 Western allies was a bid to divert attention
from Turkey's economic difficulties, while diplomats hoped the
expulsions might yet be averted.
On Saturday, Erdogan said he had ordered the envoys be
declared 'persona non grata' for seeking philanthropist Osman
Kavala's release from prison.
By Sunday evening, there was no sign that the foreign
ministry had yet carried out the instruction, which would open
the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan's 19 years in power.
The diplomatic crisis coincides with investor worries about
the Turkish lira's fall to a record low after the central bank,
under pressure from Erdogan to stimulate the economy,
unexpectedly slashed interest rates by 200 points last week.
The lira hit a fresh all-time low in early Asian
trade, weakening 1.6% to 9.75 per dollar in a move that bankers
attributed to Erdogan's comments. It has lost almost a quarter
of its value so far this year.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, said
Erdogan was "rapidly dragging the country to a precipice".
"The reason for these moves is not to protect national
interests but to create artificial reasons for the ruining of
the economy," he said on Twitter.
'SEEN THIS FILM BEFORE'
Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has
been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide
protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016.
He denies the charges and has remained in detention while his
"We've seen this film before," said opposition IYI Party
deputy leader Yavuz Agiralioglu. "Return at once to our real
agenda and the fundamental problem of this country - the
Erdogan said the envoys had failed to respect Turkey's
judiciary and had no right to demand Kavala's release.
Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank Edam
and a former Turkish diplomat, said Erdogan's timing was
incongruous as Turkey was seeking to recalibrate its foreign
policy away from episodes of tension in recent years.
"I still hope that Ankara will not go through with this," he
tweeted, describing the move as unprecedented among NATO allies.
"The foreign policy establishment is working hard to find a more
acceptable formula. But time running out."
Erdogan has not always acted on threats.
In 2018, he said Turkey would boycott U.S. electronic goods
in a dispute with Washington. Sales were unaffected. Last year,
he called on Turks to boycott French goods over what he said was
President Emmanuel Macron's "anti-Islam" agenda, but did not
One diplomatic source said a decision could be taken at
Monday's cabinet meeting and that de-escalation was still
possible. Erdogan has said he will meet U.S. President Joe Biden
at next weekend's G20 summit in Rome.
Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for two decades but
support for his ruling alliance has eroded ahead of elections
scheduled for 2023, partly because of high inflation.
While the International Monetary Fund projects economic
growth of 9% this year, inflation is more than double that, and
the lira has fallen 50% against the dollar since Erdogan's last
election victory in 2018.
Emre Peker, from the London-based consultancy Eurasia Group,
said the threat of expulsions at a time of economic difficulties
was "at best ill-considered, and at worst a foolish gambit to
bolster Erdogan's plummeting popularity".
"Erdogan has to project power for domestic political
reasons," he said.
In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the ambassadors of Canada,
Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden,
Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and
speedy resolution to Kavala's case, and for his "urgent
The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala's
immediate release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable
suspicion that he had committed an offence.
Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy tweeted: "Erdogan believes he can win the next Turkish
elections by blaming the West for attacking Turkey --
notwithstanding the sorry state of the country's economy."
(Writing by Daren Butler
Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood)