90 dead, 1,500 soldiers arrested as Turkey’s military coup falters
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90 dead, 1,500 soldiers arrested as Turkey’s military coup falters

Erdogan says government back in control, although fighting continues in some areas; troops loyal to president rescue his chief of staff from plotters

People react after taking over a military position on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul on July 16, 2016, following an apparently thwarted military coup in Turkey. (AFP PHOTO/GURCAN OZTURK)
People react after taking over a military position on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul on July 16, 2016, following an apparently thwarted military coup in Turkey. (AFP PHOTO/GURCAN OZTURK)

The number of dead from an attempted military coup in Turkey has risen to 90, the state-run news agency Anadolu reported on Saturday morning, adding that 1,154 people were wounded. A senior Turkish official said,meanwhile, that a total of 1,563 military personnel have been detained across the country, as the putsch that began Friday night seemed to lose steam within less than 12 hours.

Strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the nation in the early hours of Saturday that his government was in charge — after a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire across the capital.

The fighting continued throughout the morning, with the sounds of huge blasts echoing across Istanbul and the capital Ankara, the two biggest cities of the strategic NATO country of 80 million people. At least one bomb hit the parliament complex.

Soldiers and tanks took to the streets late Friday, while multiple explosions rang out throughout the night in Ankara and Istanbul, and in a short space of time, the military claimed to have seized power, saying it would restore human rights and secular rule of law. Erdogan, speaking initially via cell phone from an unknown location, predicted that the move would fail, and crowds of supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came out onto the streets to try to block the takeover.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, quoted Saturday morning by Anadolu, said security forces had “achieved results in many places,” including the National Intelligence Agency, police and government buildings, and had defeated those behind the coup bid.

“There is nowhere they have they have proper control. God willing they will be defeated in the remaining areas and those in the air will be brought down,” Bozdag said.

People take to the street in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan July 16, 2016 in Antalya, Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images/AFP)
People take to the street in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan July 16, 2016 in Antalya, Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images/AFP)

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called all legislators for an emergency meeting Saturday, Anadolu reported.

In a further sign of the failure of the coup, Erdogan’s military chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar was rescued in an operation launched at an air base in the outskirts of Ankara, Anadolu said Saturday morning. The agency said the general, whose fate was unknown during the coup, was being taken to a safe location. CNN-Turk said Akar would now take over the command of the operation against the putsch plotters.

Erdogan returned to Istanbul in the early hours of the morning, claiming to have regained control. After hours of chaos unseen in decades, the president ended uncertainty over his whereabouts, flying into Ataturk Airport where he made a defiant speech as he was greeted by thousands of flag-waving supporters.

He denounced the coup attempt as “treachery,” but said he was carrying out his functions and would keep on working “to the end.”

“What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price for this act of treason,” he said.

“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people,” Erdogan said. “The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge. This government brought to power by the people, is in charge. They won’t succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything.”

Erdogan called on Turks to take to the streets across the country, and many did, marching through the streets of Izmir and Istanbul, waving Turkish flags and gathering in the main square in Ankara. The Dogan news agency reported that in Istanbul, soldiers fired on a group of people trying to cross the Bosporus bridge to protest the attempted coup, and that some people were hurt. TV footage showed people running for cover amid gunfire.

Turkish soldiers are seen in Istanbul, Friday, July 15, 2016, after a group within Turkey's military engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkish soldiers are seen in Istanbul, Friday, July 15, 2016, after a group within Turkey’s military engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Troops in Istanbul also fired in the air to disperse a growing crowd of government supporters at the Taksim monument as military helicopters flew overhead. A nearby mosque made an anti-coup announcement over its loudspeakers. Several blasts and the screech of fighter jets were heard in central Istanbul as dawn approached.

CNN-Turk showed images of dozens of soldiers giving themselves up to government forces on Istanbul’s Bosporus Bridge, whose closure on Friday night was one of the first signs that something was afoot in the country. The troops were walking among the tanks used in the attempted coup with their hands held up.

At the Etimesgut armored units training command, on the outskirts of Ankara, some soldiers who took part in the coup bid were arrested by fellow officers or soldiers and handed over to police, Anadolu reported.

International backing for democracy

In the US, the president’s main ally turned enemy denounced the bid to topple Erdogan “in the strongest terms,” and dismissed claims that he played a role in the army’s efforts to seize power.

“As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations,” cleric Fethullah Gulen said in a brief statement just before midnight Friday.

Fethullah Gulen (photo credit: CC-BY-Diyar se, Wikimedia Commons)
Fethullah Gulen (photo credit: CC-BY-Diyar se, Wikimedia Commons)

In his TV address, Erdogan blamed the attack on Gulen supporters. The president has long accused the cleric and his supporters of attempting to overthrow the government. The cleric lives in exile in Pennsylvania and promotes a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialog.

The chaos capped a period of political turmoil in Turkey which critics blamed on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, which has included a government shake-up, a crackdown on dissidents and opposition media and renewed conflict in the mainly Kurdish areas of the southeast.

Turkey, a NATO member, is a key partner in US-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State group, and has allowed American jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against the extremists in nearby Syria and Iraq. A coup against the democratically elected government could make it difficult for the United States to continue to cooperate with Turkey.

World leaders called for calm, with US President Barack Obama and other Western countries urging support for the government which he said had been elected in democratic elections.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and called for respect for democracy.

Turkish soldiers stand in Taksim Square in Istanbul as people protest against the military coup on July 16, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE)
Turkish soldiers stand in Taksim Square in Istanbul as people protest against the military coup on July 16, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE)

European Council President Donald Tusk also said Saturday morning that the European Union fully supported Turkey’s democratically elected government, and called for a swift return to the country’s constitutional order.

“Turkey is a key partner for the European Union. The EU fully supports the democratically elected government, the institutions of the country and the rule of law,” Tusk said from the Asia-Europe summit meeting in Mongolia.

Turkey’s once-powerful military has long considered itself the guardian of the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. It has staged three coups since 1960 and forced out an Islamic government in 1997.

Erdogan’s critics have long accused him of undermining modern Turkey’s secular roots and of sliding into authoritarianism — but the president was believed to have won control of the military after purging elements who opposed him.

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