Turkey shuts 1,000 schools, arrests wanted cleric’s nephew
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Turkey shuts 1,000 schools, arrests wanted cleric’s nephew

Erdogan government extends police powers as it pushes on with purge of perceived state enemies after failed coup

A man holds up a photo of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-Erdogan rally in Taksim Square in Istanbul on July 22, 2016, following the failed military coup attempt of July 15. (AFP/Ozan Kose)
A man holds up a photo of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-Erdogan rally in Taksim Square in Istanbul on July 22, 2016, following the failed military coup attempt of July 15. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

AFP — Turkey pushed on Saturday with a sweeping crackdown against suspects accused of taking part in the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, extending police powers to hold people in detention and shuttering over 1,000 private schools.

A week after renegade soldiers tried to oust him with guns, tanks and F16s, Erdogan’s government has rounded up or sacked tens of thousands of perceived state enemies, including almost 300 officers of the guard shielding his Ankara palace.

It also detained a nephew of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, state-run media reported, the first time one of his relatives has been apprehended in the current crackdown.

Muhammet Sait Gulen will be taken to the capital Ankara after he was detained in Erzurum, the eastern region where his 75-year-old uncle is said to have developed his deep convictions, close to his birthplace of Korucuk.

Erzurum is thought to be home to many Gulen supporters and members of his Hizmet movement, which Turkish authorities say was behind the bloody attempted power grab on July 15.

Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based arch-foe of Erdogan, is accused of “masterminding” the putsch through his movement, a claim he strongly denies.

The nephew was detained in connection with the coup, which Turkey says was organized by the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation”, state-run news agency Anadolu reported.

Meanwhile, in its first major release of suspects amid global criticism of the crackdown, Turkey set free 1,200 low ranking soldiers in Ankara.

Under heightened police powers, suspects can now be held without charge for one month, up from four days, the official gazette announced on the third day of what Erdogan has said would be a three-month state of emergency.

Fears that the strongman will seek to further cement his rule and muzzle dissent through repression have strained ties with Western NATO allies and cast a darkening shadow over Turkey’s long-standing bid to join the European Union.

After Brussels issued stinging criticism and warned Erdogan that bringing back the death penalty would end the membership bid for good, Erdogan fired back that the EU had taken a “biased and prejudiced” stance on Turkey.

He added bitterly that “for the past 53 years Europe has been making us wait” and that no EU candidate country “has had to suffer like we have had to suffer.”

“They are making statements that are contradictory,” he told told France 24 television. “They are biased, they are prejudiced and will continue to act in this prejudiced manner towards Turkey.”

Strains have also grown with the United States, which relies on Turkish bases to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

The man Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the plot against him, the reclusive 75-year-old Gulen, has long lived in a secluded compound in Pennsylvania, and Ankara is pushing for his extradition.

Turkish cleric and opponent to the Erdogan regime Fethullah Gülen speaks at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania on July 18, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / Thomas URBAIN)
Turkish cleric and opponent to the Erdogan regime Fethullah Gülen speaks at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania on July 18, 2016 (AFP Photo/Thomas Urbain)

President Barack Obama said Friday the US would take seriously any “evidence” of wrongdoing by the preacher, whose followers, including alumni of his foundation’s schools, have long had a strong presence in Turkey’s police and civil service.

Obama also flatly rejected claims that the US had prior intelligence of the July 15 putsch attempt, calling such suggestions “unequivocally false.”

Erdogan has insisted that, despite the new emergency powers and the mass purges, Turkey will not “compromise on democracy,” as Ankara has said its measures are no different to those France has taken since a series of bloody jihadist attacks.

Prosecutors said Turkey had set free 1,200 soldiers, all privates, detained in Ankara after the military coup, as authorities were seeking to swiftly sort out those who had fired on the people from those who did not.

People take streets in Ankara, Turkey during a protest against a military coup on July 16, 2016. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)
People take to the streets in Ankara, Turkey during a protest against a military coup on July 16, 2016. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

To root out what Erdogan labels the “virus” of Gulen’s clandestine “terrorists” and their sympathisers, his government has sacked thousands of state teachers and university lecturers, who have also been barred from overseas travel.

In the latest move targeting the education sector, 1,043 private schools and 1,229 associations and foundations will be shut down, said Saturday’s Gazette statement.

The steps were just some of the seismic changes that have rocked Turkey since the shock of the July 15 coup attempt that claimed 246 lives.

The night of violence left 24 rebel soldiers dead and killed 179 civilians, 62 police and five soldiers who opposed them and have been hailed as “martyrs.”

Since the coup, massive crowds of flag-waving Erdogan supporters have taken to the streets night after night to celebrate their leader.

But rights activists and opposition groups, including from Turkey’s Kurdish minority, fear a widening witchhunt of government critics.

According to the authorities, 10,410 people have been detained — mainly soldiers, including 283 Presidential Guard officers, but also police, judges and civil servants. Of these, 4,500 have been formally placed under arrest.

The Turkish government has also cancelled over 10,000 passports, mainly of state officials, “due to flight risk with the holders either in custody or on the run.”

Aside from the detentions, more than 50,000 other civil servants, down to the family and sports ministries, have been sacked or suspended — in a purge whose speed and scale suggested to many observers that their names were on pre-existing lists.

The government also plans more far-reaching institutional changes, said the interior minister, Efkan Ala. Crucially, he said, control of the gendarmerie, in charge of domestic security, will be wrested from the army and placed under the interior ministry.

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