Turkey: Envoy assassination won’t ‘cast shadow’ on Russia ties
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Turkey: Envoy assassination won’t ‘cast shadow’ on Russia ties

Official calls killing of Andrey Karlov a ‘terror attack’ on Ankara-Moscow relations; Russia vows ‘murderers will be punished’

Turkish soldiers and police stand guard near the Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall, where Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Ankara, was shot dead on December 19, 2016, in Ankara. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)
Turkish soldiers and police stand guard near the Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall, where Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Ankara, was shot dead on December 19, 2016, in Ankara. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

Turkey on Monday said it would not allow the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara to damage relations with Moscow, describing the killing as a “terror attack” on bilateral relations.

“We will not allow this attack to cast a shadow on Turkey-Russia relations,” said the Turkish foreign ministry in a statement. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the killing of Andrey Karlov was “a terror attack on relations between Russia and Turkey.”

Hours earlier, a Turkish policeman crying “Aleppo” and “Allahu Akbar” shot Karlov dead at an art exhibition in Ankara, apparently as an act of revenge for the Russian bombing of Aleppo.

Dramatic television footage showed the moment the veteran diplomat was shot as he opened a show of Russian photographs at the Ankara exhibition hall.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu identified the attacker as Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, who had worked in the Ankara anti-riot police for the last two-and-a-half years.

A man gestures near to Andrei Karlov on ground, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey at a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey, December 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
A man gestures near to Andrei Karlov on ground, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey at a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey, December 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

“Today in Ankara as a result of an attack the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov received wounds that he died from,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments.

“We qualify what happened as a terrorist act,” she added. “The murderers will be punished.”

“Today this issue will be raised at the UN Security Council. Terrorism will not win out.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Putin to brief him about the attack, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

The shooting took place at the Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall in the Cankaya district of Ankara where most foreign embassies are located, including Russia’s mission.

Images showed the ambassador standing up to speak at a lectern, before stumbling and crashing to the ground, lying flat on his back as the attacker — dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie — brandishes his gun at terrified onlookers.

The man shouts “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and then talks about pledging allegiance to jihad in Arabic, the images show.

Switching to Turkish, he then says: “Don’t forget about Syria, don’t forget about Aleppo. All those who participate in this tyranny will be held accountable.”

The Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov speaks at a gallery in Ankara, December 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
The Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov speaks at a gallery in Ankara, December 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the gunman had been “neutralized” in a police operation inside the hall after 15 minutes of clashes.

Soylu identified the attacker as Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, who had worked in the Ankara anti-riot police for the last two-and-a-half years.

The incident came after days of protests in Turkey over Russia’s role in Syria, although Moscow and Ankara are now working closely together to evacuate citizens from the battered city of Aleppo.

The United States condemned the attack, while British ambassador Richard Moore paid tribute to a “quietly spoken, hospitable professional.”

‘Crucial meeting’

Protesters in Turkey have held Moscow responsible for human rights violations in Aleppo with thousands turning out for protests outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey and Russia saw relations plunge to their worst levels since the Cold War last year, when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian war plane over Syria.

They stand on opposite sides of the Syria conflict, with Ankara backing rebels trying to topple Moscow’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

A Syrian boy living in Turkey holds a sign during a protest against Russia, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime ally, in front of the Russian Embassy along Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on December 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE)
A Syrian boy living in Turkey holds a sign during a protest against Russia, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime ally, in front of the Russian Embassy along Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on December 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE)

But the rhetoric has warmed considerably since a reconciliation deal was signed earlier this year and a Russian and Turkish-brokered accord has helped the evacuation of citizens from Aleppo in the last days.

The attack came a day before the Turkish, Russian and Iranian foreign ministers were to hold unprecedented three-way talks on the Syria conflict in Moscow.

The Syrian foreign ministry in Damascus denounced the murder as a “despicable crime,” state news agency SANA said.

Cavusoglu learned of the news while on the plane to Moscow and the meeting would go ahead as planned, Turkish officials said.

Born in 1954 in Moscow, Karlov was a career diplomat who had began his career under the USSR in 1976. He was Russian ambassador to North Korea from 2001-2006.

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