- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Turkey’s ambassador to Greece said Tuesday that Turkish public opinion is closely watching the case of eight Turkish military personnel who flew to Greece aboard a helicopter during last Friday’s attempted coup in their country, and that failure for them to be returned to Turkey could harm bilateral relations.

The eight - identified as two majors, four captains and two master sergeants - landed in the airport of the northeastern city of Alexandroupolis after issuing a distress signal and requesting permission for an emergency landing, which was granted by Greek authorities. They say they weren’t involved in the attempted coup, but had been tasked with transporting wounded and had come under fire from the police.

The eight have applied for asylum in Greece, and appeared before immigration officials Tuesday for the start of the asylum procedure. They will re-appear on July 26 for further interviews, and will stand trial Thursday on charges of illegal entry into Greece.

The Greek government has said their asylum applications will be examined under international law, but that the fact that they are accused in their country of participating in a coup will be taken into account.

Turkish Ambassador Kerim Uras said the court case was being closely followed by public opinion in Turkey, with several Turkish television channels covering the developments live.

“So emotions are running very high. … There’s great interest in this,” the ambassador said, adding that a swift return to Turkey “can really turn into a great positive thing for bilateral relations.”

However, he added, “if it’s not, I would be quite concerned as an ambassador, and I must say this, that it would not help at all, and that public opinion’s sentiments might be … reactionary, let’s say.”

Uras cast doubt on the claims by the military personnel that they weren’t involved in the attempted coup, and said that as a helicopter didn’t necessarily need an airport to land even in an emergency, they shouldn’t have been granted permission to land in Greece.

“I think it was a mistake to accept these people in the first place, because it was a military helicopter,” he said.

“Secondly, everyone knew what was going on in Turkey, there was a coup, a coup attempt, and it’s very obvious these are people escaping the law,” he said. “So there’s a very high probability that these are terrorists. They are people who are fleeing justice.” The Turkish government has described those involved in the attempted coup as terrorists.

After landing in Alexandroupolis, the Turkish government would have preferred “not to go through a painful, lengthy process but for them to be deported. This is again a missed chance,” the ambassador said, noting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogdan had spoken with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“I hope we will manage to swiftly fulfil the phases of the due process and Greece will manage to return these terrorist elements so that they will face justice in Turkey, of course in line with international norms and respecting their human rights,” Uras said. “But they have to be returned.”

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