US billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundation said it has decided to cease operations in Turkey, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the philanthropist of trying to divide nations.
The organisation said on Wednesday that it was no longer possible to work in Turkey after it became the target of “baseless claims” in the media and a renewed investigation by Turkish authorities into mass protests against Erdogan’s government five years ago.
It said the Turkish interior ministry was renewing attempts to prove that the Soros foundation was behind the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests, one of the biggest political challenges to Erdogan’s 15-year rule.
The foundation denied any link to the protests.
Erdogan denounced Soros last week while speaking of the detention of 13 activists and academics accused of supporting attempts by jailed businessman and rights advocate Osman Kavala to revive the Gezi protests.
“The person (Kavala) who financed terrorists during the Gezi incidents is already in prison,” Erdogan told a meeting of local administrators on Wednesday.
“And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros. This is a man who assigns people to divide nations and shatter them. He has so much money and he spends it this way.”
One of the 13 people detained on November 16 was Hakin Altinay, who helped establish the Open Society Foundation in Turkey. Others were staff members of Kavala’s Anadolu Kultur centre, which campaigns for human rights and cultural diversity.
Ankara’s Western allies have repeatedly criticised the arrest of tens of thousands of people since a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016.
Kavala, in detention for more than a year, said on Monday in a statement posted on his website that he was still waiting for an indictment to be prepared so that he could prove that the claims he had helped to direct and finance the Gezi protests and wanted to overthrow the government were “unfounded”.
Soros, a US-based financier and philanthropist, and his Open Society Foundation have also come under fire in Hungary.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban accuses Soros and the liberal causes he backs of trying to undermine Europe’s Christian culture by promoting mass migration, a charge the financier denies.