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Turkey officials sanctioned over US pastor

The United States has sanctioned Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu over the country’s imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson.
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the men had played leading roles in Brunson’s 2016 arrest and detention.

Mr Brunson, 50, was arrested in December 2016 following a failed coup on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and espionage.

He was recently released to home detention.

He faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted on both counts at the end of his ongoing trial.

“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement formally announcing the financial restrictions.

“President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

On Tuesday, a Turkish court rejected Brunson’s appeal to be released from house arrest during his trial on terrorism charges.

Turkey has accused him of helping the group that Ankara has said was behind a failed military coup two years ago.

Sanders said that President Donald Trump had spoken with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan about Brunson.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with his counterpart by telephone and they planned to meet on the sidelines of ASEAN meetings this week in Singapore, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Anticipation of the US sanctions had already helped to send the Turkish lira to an all-time low against the dollar on Wednesday.

In response, Turkey later on Wednesday called on the US to reverse its decision and threatened to retaliate “without delay”.

A Foreign Ministry statement said Turkey “strongly protests” against the US Treasury’s decision to impose sanctions against Turkey’s justice and interior ministers.

It said Turkey would “respond in kind without delay” against what it described as an aggressive stance by the United States.

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