ANKARA/ ISTANBUL: Turkish forces loyal to President Tayyip Erdogan largely crushed an attempted military coup on Saturday after crowds answered his call to take to the streets in support of the government and dozens of rebels abandoned their tanks.
At least 265 people were killed, mostly civilians, after a faction of the armed forces tried to seize power using tanks and attack helicopters. Some strafed the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in the capital, Ankara, and others seized a major bridge in Istanbul.
Erdogan accused the coup plotters of trying to kill him, and launched a purge of the armed forces. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he told a cheering crowd in Istanbul.
PM Nawaz heaps praise on Turks for standing up to military
“The army is ours. I am chief commander,” said Erdogan, looking relaxed and smiling, giving an occasional thumbs-up to his supporters. “The coup attempt was carried out by a minority in the army,” he added. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” A Turkish broadcaster reported that a purge of the judiciary was also under way.
At one stage military commanders were held hostage by the plotters and by Saturday evening – 24 hours after the coup was launched – some operations against rebels were continuing.
The government declared the situation under control, saying 2,839 people had been rounded up, from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who formed ‘the backbone’ of the rebellion. Anadolu news agency said one of those detained was the commander of the Second Army which protects the country’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
US President Barack Obama expressed support for Turkey’s government.
Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and told thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport that the government remained at the helm.
Erdogan said the plotters had tried to attack him in the resort town of Marmaris. “They bombed places I had departed from right after I was gone,” he said. “They probably thought we were still there.”
Turkish President addresses the country on FaceTime during coup attempt
In a night that sometimes verged on the bizarre, Erdogan frequently took to social media, even though he is an avowed enemy of the technology when his opponents use it and frequently targets Twitter and Facebook. Erdogan addressed the nation via a video calling service, appearing on the smartphone of a CNN Turk reporter who held it up to a studio camera.
He said the ‘parallel structure’ was behind the coup attempt, his shorthand for followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric whom he has repeatedly accused of trying to foment an uprising in the military, media and judiciary.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, condemned the attempted coup and said he played no role in it.
“There is a possibility that the coup could have been staged,” he said in a statement. “My message to Turkish people is never view military intervention positively because democracy cannot be achieved that way.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said his country has not received any request from Turkey to extradite Gulen.
The purge appeared to go beyond the military. Citing a decision by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, broadcaster NTV reported that authorities had removed 2,745 judges from duty.
Gunfire and explosions had rocked both Istanbul and Ankara through the night after soldiers took up positions in both cities and ordered state television to read out a statement declaring they had taken power.
Thousands rally for Turkey president after coup fails
However, by dawn the noise of fighting had died down considerably. About 50 soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on one of the bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul after dawn on Saturday.
By Saturday afternoon, CNN Turk reported that security forces had completed an operation against coup plotters at the headquarters of the military general staff.
Neighbouring Greece arrested eight men aboard a Turkish military helicopter which landed in the northern city of Alexandroupolis on Saturday, the Greek police ministry said, adding that they had requested political asylum.
Lawmakers in hiding
In the early hours of Saturday, lawmakers hid in shelters inside the parliament building, which was fired on by tanks. An opposition deputy told Reuters that parliament was hit three times and people had been wounded.
When parliament convened later in the day, the four main political parties came together in a rare show of unity to condemn the attempted coup.
Momentum turned against the coup plotters as the night wore on. Crowds defied orders to stay indoors, gathering at major squares in Istanbul and Ankara, waving flags and chanting. Groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Ataturk airport.
Flag carrier Turkish Airlines resumed flights on Saturday, though some foreign carriers cancelled weekend flights.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2016.
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