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Turkey evacuates diplomats from Basra, says Iraqi capital still safe

Turkey evacuates diplomats from consulate in Basra, Iraq
80 Turks already held hostage by ISIS militants as Ankara relocates Basra mission staff to Kuwait
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan slaps ban on media reports about Turkish hostages in Iraq

The Turkish government on Tuesday evacuated its consulate in Basra, Iraq, and slapped a ban on media reporting about the 80 Turks seized by Islamic militants from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul nearly a week ago.

In announcing the precautionary evacuation of diplomats from the southern Iraqi city to Kuwait, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a 24-hour crisis center had been set up at Ankara's embassy to the north in Baghdad but that the Iraqi capital appeared to be safe from the extremists' incursions for the time being.

Sunni Muslim extremists from the Al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, took 49 Turkish consular staff hostage in Mosul last week when they swept into the city in a surprise attack that sent half a million residents fleeing. The ISIS gunmen also seized 31 Turkish soldiers stationed at the consulate.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had urged caution in Turkish media about reporting on the hostage situation, warning that the safety of the captives could be at stake. On Monday he got an Ankara court to issue an edict banning reports about the hostages, the country's RTUK broadcasting authority reported on its website Tuesday.

Erdogan, whose democratic credentials have been tarnished over the last year by massive protests against what critics say is his high-handed rule and a major corruption scandal, has sought to squelch news that could reflect poorly on him ahead of an August presidential election in which he is expected to be a candidate. During the corruption scandal, when his government ministers and close family members were accused of looting state coffers, he orchestrated the shutdown of Twitter and YouTube for weeks before a court ordered the social media networks restored.

Erdogan also accused the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of failing to protect the Mosul consulate staff from the ISIS militants.

"All embassies and staff are under the guarantee of their host countries. Each country is responsible for providing the security of life and property of diplomatic personnel operating in their territories," Erdogan said during his weekly parliamentary address Tuesday. "The central government in Iraq could not do that and failed to protect Turkey's consulate in Mosul." 

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