Turkey detains 6000 over coup attempt

  • 18/07/2016
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at a funeral service for people killed in the attempted coup (Reuters)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at a funeral service for people killed in the attempted coup (Reuters)

Turkey has widened a crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup, taking the number of people rounded up in the armed forces and judiciary to 6000, and the government says it is in full control of the country and economy.

Over the weekend supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan rallied in public squares, at Istanbul airport and outside his palace in a show of defiance after the coup attempt killed at least 265 people.

With expectations growing of heavy measures against dissent, European politicians warned Erdogan that the coup attempt did not give him a blank cheque to disregard the rule of law, and that he risked isolating himself internationally as he strengthens his position at home.

Broadcaster NTV cited Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying that more arrests were expected on top of the 6000 people already detained.

Authorities have rounded up nearly 3000 suspected military plotters, ranging from top commanders to foot soldiers, and the same number of judges and prosecutors after forces loyal to Erdogan crushed the attempted coup on Saturday.

Among those arrested is General Bekir Ercan Van, commander of the Incirlik air base from which US aircraft launch airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, an official said.

"Control across Turkey has been restored and there are no clashes at the moment," a senior official said, adding that although a few groups of coup plotters were holding out in Istanbul, they no longer posed a risk.

"There are still a few important soldiers on the run and being sought. I believe they will be captured shortly," the official told Reuters.

The crackdown appears to intensify a longstanding push by Mr Erdogan to root out the influence of followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Mr Erdogan accuses followers of Mr Gulen, who was once an ally but is now his arch-enemy, of trying to create a "parallel structure" within the courts, police, armed forces and media with the aim of toppling the state.

The cleric denies the charge and says he played no role in the attempted coup, denouncing it as an affront to democracy.

Mr Erdogan promised a purge of the armed forces even before the coup attempt was over.

"They will pay a heavy price for this," he said. "This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army."

At a rally late on Saturday, his supporters demanded that the coup leaders be executed. "Let's hang them!" chanted the crowd in Ankara's central Kizilay square. Erdogan told them that parliament may consider a proposal to bring back the death penalty, which has been abolished.

Mr Erdogan's critics say he will use the purge to create a pliant judiciary, eliminating any dissenting voices in the courts.

Some European politicians have expressed their unease about developments since the coup attempt.

"We want the rule of law to work fully in Turkey," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. "(The coup attempt) is not a blank cheque for Mr Erdogan. There cannot be purges, the rule of law must work," he told France 3 television.

Mr Ayrault said European Union ministers would reiterate on Monday (local time) when they meet in Brussels that Turkey - which has applied to join the bloc - must conform to Europe's democratic principles.

A successful overthrow of Mr Erdogan, who has ruled the country since 2003, would have marked another seismic shift in the Middle East, five years after the Arab uprisings erupted and plunged Turkey's southern neighbour Syria into civil war.

But the failed attempt could still destabilise the US ally, which lies between Europe and the chaos of Syria.

Gulen said the attempted overthrow may have been staged to justify a crackdown.

Mr Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party has long had strained relations with the military, which has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism although it has not seized power directly since 1980.

His conservative religious vision for Turkey's future has also alienated many ordinary citizens who accuse him of authoritarianism. Police used heavy force in 2013 to suppress mass protests demanding more freedom.

Mr Erdogan commands the admiration and loyalty of millions of Turks, however, particularly for raising living standards and restoring order to an economy once beset by regular crises.