Turkey detains 6,000 as post-coup crackdown widens

Erdogan calls for avoiding delay in using death penalty against rebels

Reuters July 18, 2016

ISTANBUL/ANKARA: Turkey widened a crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup on Sunday, taking the number of people rounded up in the armed forces and judiciary to 6,000.

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.

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Erdogan, however, said there could be no delay in using capital punishment against the rebels, adding the government would discuss it with opposition parties.

Broadcaster NTV cited Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying that more arrests were expected on top of the 6,000 people already detained. The foreign ministry raised the death toll to more than 290 while 1,400 people were injured.

Authorities have rounded up nearly 3,000 suspected military plotters, ranging from top commanders to foot soldiers, and the same number of judges and prosecutors. 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. Erdogan’s chief military assistant was also detained.

Erdogan said on Sunday the coup attempt had been put down by the ‘national will’. Speaking to a crowd of supporters who called for the death penalty for those responsible, he said: “We cannot ignore this demand.”

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The Turkish president blamed the coup on “those who cannot bear the unity of our country and are under the orders of masterminds to take over the state,” in what appeared to be a veiled reference to the West in general, and more specifically, the United States.

US Secretary of State John Kerry described public suggestions of a US role as ‘utterly false’, and said Washington had had no intelligence of the coup before it began.

Even before the coup attempt was over, Erdogan promised a purge of the armed forces. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said. 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.

“[The coup attempt] is not a blank cheque for Mr Erdogan. There cannot be purges, the rule of law must work,” said France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said Erdogan would move Turkey away from the core values represented by the EU and Nato if he used the attempted coup to restrict basic rights further.

Rebel jets had Erdogan’s plane in their sights

At the height of the coup attempt, the rebel pilots of two F-16 fighter jets had Erdogan’s plane in their sights. And yet he was able to fly on.

The Turkish leader was returning to Istanbul from a holiday near the coastal resort of Marmaris after a faction in the military launched the coup on Friday night.

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“At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan’s plane while it was en route to Istanbul. They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him,” a former military officer with knowledge of the events told Reuters. “Why they didn’t fire is a mystery,” he said.

A second senior official also said the presidential jet had been ‘in trouble in the air’ but gave no details.

Erdogan said as the coup unfolded that the plotters had tried to attack him in Marmaris and had bombed places he had been at shortly after he left.  He “evaded death by minutes”, the second official said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2016.



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