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U.S. 'disappointed' after Turkish court declines to free U.S. consular employee

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expressed disappointment on Thursday at the refusal of a Turkish court to free a U.S. consulate employee accused of espionage in a case that has damaged relations between Washington and Ankara.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Metin Topuz, a Turkish translator for the Drug Enforcement Administration at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, was ordered held at least until his next court appearance, which was set for June 28.

“Disappointed by the result of yesterday’s hearing in #Turkey," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in tweet.

"We have seen no credible evidence of any wrongdoing, yet @ABDIstanbul employee Metin Topuz remains in prison. We again urge Turkish authorities to resolve this matter swiftly, transparently, and fairly.”

Topuz, who has been held since his arrest in 2017, is one of three U.S. consulate employees who have been charged in criminal cases that have been major irritants in the relationship between the NATO allies.

He is on trial on charges of espionage and links to the network of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is based in the United States and blamed by Turkey for plotting a failed 2016 coup.

Washington and Ankara are at odds over a range of issues including Syria policy, the U.S. refusal to extradite Gulen, and Turkey's plans to buy Russian missile systems.

The indictment accuses Topuz of being in frequent contact with officers who led a 2013 corruption investigation in Turkey, which the government has described as a "judicial coup attempt" by Gulen's network.

Topuz denies the charges, saying it was not his decision who he came into contact with through his work.

Turkey indicted another U.S. consulate employee in March, also accusing him of links to Gulen's network. A third employee was freed convicted of terrorism but freed in January due to time served during his trial.

Since the abortive 2016 military coup, Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly as many civil servants over suspected links to the coup attempt, according to the U.N. human rights office.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, Peter Graff and Alistair Bell)

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