November 17, 2016

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s order for 400 Turkish nationals, mostly schoolteachers and their families, to leave the country within 72 hours was being challenged in court on Thursday as hundreds of students took to the streets to denounce the expulsions.

The developments come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making a high-profile visit to Pakistan. The Turkish nationals include staff at the PakTurk International school chain and their family members. Ankara has accused the school of links with the movement of U.S.-based dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Pak-Turk denies.

Erdogan has accused Gulen supporters of staging the failed July 15 coup in Turkey. The school on Thursday posted a new statement on its website saying the “PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan have no affiliation or connection with any political individual or any movement or organization.”

The Islamabad High Court, which took up the petition by the 400 Turkish nationals, heard arguments from the school’s lawyer on Thursday before a break in the proceedings, according to court official Faheem Rizvi.

The petition said the expulsion would adversely affect 11,000 students in 28 branches of the school across the country. It requested that the orders be rescinded and that the school’s expatriate staff be allowed to continue to work in Pakistan, he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of PakTurk students blocked the main road in the eastern city of Lahore to protest the expulsion orders, said Pakistani police officer Adnan Naseer. “Don’t play with our future,” student Tariq Ahmad told Pakistani Capital News TV.

After talks in Islamabad, Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a joint press conference, pledging to enhance bilateral cooperation, share their experience in fighting terrorism and complete a free trade agreement by the end of 2017.

Erdogan was to address the Pakistani parliament later in the day. On the expulsion issue, Erdogan thanked the Pakistani government for taking action against what he described as supporters of Gulen’s network, and assured the media that PakTurk students will not suffer.

Erdogan also said Turkey is seeking help from allies in dismantling Gulen’s “evil netywork,” which he claimed was also a threat to Pakistan’s security.

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