Turkey coup crushed; 104 plotters dead, 1,500 arrested
ANKARA—A Turkish army faction backed by tanks and fighter jets waged a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the defiant strongman claimed on Saturday to have quickly regained control, with security forces killing at least 104 putschists.
Soldiers and tanks poured to the streets late on Friday and multiple explosions rang out throughout the night in Ankara and Istanbul, the two biggest cities of the strategic Nato country of 80 million people.
But as the takeover bid was falling apart hours later, acting army chief Gen. Umit Dundar said about 104 coup plotters were killed, with many other commanders taken to “unknown locations.”
Forty-one police officers, two soldiers and 47 civilians were also killed. The state-run Anadolu news agency said more than 1,100 were wounded.
“The coup attempt has been foiled,” Dundar said in a televised address.
He said officers from the Air Force, the military police and armored units were mainly involved in the plot. More than 1,500 military personnel were arrested across the country.
Dozens of soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul that they had held throughout the night, holding their hands above their heads as they were detained, television footage showed.
Erdogan had predicted that the putsch would fail after a long night of violence, with crowds of supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming out onto the streets to try to block it.
After hours of chaos unseen in decades, the president ended uncertainty over his whereabouts, flying into Istanbul airport in the early hours where he made a defiant speech and was greeted by hundreds of supporters.
Erdogan 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,” a defiant Erdogan said at the airport. “We will not leave our country to occupiers.”
By Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim declared the situation was “completely under control.”
Erdogan blamed Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, his archenemy who he has always accused of seeking to overthrow him.
But the president’s former ally denied any involvement in the plot, calling the accusation “insulting.”
“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,” said Gulen, 75, in a statement from the United States, where he has been living since 1999 before he was charged with treason in his home country.
Power should be won through democratic elections, and not by force, Gulen said as he hoped a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
The sound of F-16 fighter jets flying over the capital Ankara signaled the start of the putsch late Friday, with troops also moving to block the bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul.
As protesters took to the streets, witnesses said they saw troops open fire on people gathered near one of the bridges, leaving tens wounded. Protesters angrily denouncing the coup bid at Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square, were also fired at, injuring several.
Turkish army F-16s launched air strikes against tanks stationed by coup backers outside the presidential palace in Ankara, while the parliament was also bombed. Loud explosions could be heard near the complex. Television footage showed one jet flying low on the horizon.
US offers support
As fighting raged, world leaders called for calm, with US President Barack Obama and other Western countries urging support for the government which they stressed had been elected in democratic elections. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both spoke with Erdogan by phone and promised unwavering US backing.
“The president and the secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically elected government of Turkey, show restraint and avoid any violence or bloodshed,” the White House said.
Russia said it was “deeply concerned” by the developments, while a spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was also closely monitoring the events. “Everything must be done to protect human lives,” Merkel said, according to the spokesperson.
Shift in Mideast politics
Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, and had the coup succeeded, it would have meant a shift in Middle East politics in recent years. Turkey is a key US ally in the region, and Washington has often pointed to it as a good example of a free-market democracy in the Muslim world, even as it has a poor record on freedom of expression.
The violence also adds new instability to the region, as Turkey is a key power broker in the ongoing Syria conflict.
The sharp-tongued Erdogan is often accused of authoritarian rule at home, and has frequently fallen with neighbors like Israel, Iran, Russia and the the European Union, but he has tried to carve out a greater role for Turkey in the region.
After the initial dramatic military movements, state broadcaster TRT said the troops behind the putsch had declared martial law and a curfew, in a statement signed by a group calling itself the “Council for Peace in the Homeland.”
“The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,” the statement said.
It said the coup had been launched “to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, and let the supremacy of the law in the country prevail, to restore order which was disrupted.”
No named military officer claimed responsibility for the actions although a key procoup general had been killed.
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 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.
The Turkish strongman urged people via social networks to rally in his support, prompting hundreds of supporters to gather in Turkey’s three main cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.
There was chaos in Istanbul as angry crowds took to the streets to boo the passing tanks, with smaller numbers welcoming the troops.
As a helicopter flew over the famed Taksim Square, scene of massive anti-Erdogan protests three years ago, the crowd began to boo, shaking their fists at the night sky before they were shot at by the soldiers.
“The people are afraid of a military government,” a 38-year-old man who gave his name as Dogan told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Most of them have been in military service, they know what a military government would mean.” Reports from AFP, AP/TVJ