PRISTINA, Kosovo - Kosovo's prime minister on Friday fired both his interior minister and the country's intelligence chief for secretly deporting five Turkish teachers and a Turkish doctor without his permission.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said Interior Minister Flamur Sefaj and the head of the country's intelligence service, Driton Gashi, had not told him about their decision. The six men were arrested, lost their Kosovo residence permits and deported on Thursday, and were arrested upon arriving in Ankara.
Addressing lawmakers, Haradinaj said he considered the deportations a "violation of the decision-making hierarchy." He said it was a bilateral operation of the intelligence services of both countries.
"This is an institutional precedent that should not happen in the future," he said.
The Turkish teachers worked with schools owned by Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for an attempted coup two years ago. Gulen has denied the claims.
Tens of thousands of alleged Gulen supporters have been arrested or lost their jobs in Turkey since the July 2016 attempted coup. Many have proclaimed their innocence.
Turkish media, however, called the six deported Turks members of the Gulen "terror group's branch in the Balkans."
Erdogan on Friday hailed the role his country's intelligence police played in the deportations, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
"Our National Intelligence Organization brought six senior FETO representatives in the Balkans back to Turkey in co-operation with Kosovo intelligence," he said.
The deportations were criticized by rights groups, the U.S. ambassador and students in Kosovo.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch called the Turks' deportation and arrest "a callous disregard for human rights and rule of law."
The U.S. ambassador to Pristina, Greg Delawie, wrote on Twitter that "Transparency and commitment to due process and the rule of law are vital."
Scores of students at the Gulistan Education Institutions in Kosovo protested Friday in Pristina, the capital, with banners supporting their former teachers.
Leutrim Syla, a lawyer for one of the deported Turks, said they have no information on the men since they were arrested in Ankara.
"We are really concerned about their welfare, or their life," he said.