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News > World

Erdogan Reclaims Power, Crackdown on Insurgents Begins

  • People wave flags as they wait for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to appear for a speech outside his residence in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016.

    People wave flags as they wait for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to appear for a speech outside his residence in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 July 2016

Nearly 3,000 have been arrested following failed coup that left 265 dead and more than 1,440 injured.

Turkey's government Saturday began rounding up thousands of military personnel suspected of taking part in an attempted coup Friday evening that left at least 265 people dead and another 1,440 people wounded. 

As day broke over Ankara, journalists reported that the streets of the capital city had begun to quiet down, following a night of chaotic gunfire and bomb explosions near Turkey's Parlliament. 

At least two bombs hit the Turkish parliament Friday and explosions were heard on Taksim Square and at Istanbul's Ataturk airport as Turkey erupted in protests after an attempted coup by a military faction.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called the coup attempt “a stain in the history of democracy” at a Saturday news conference in Ankara and said that 2,839 military personnel had been detained in the aftermath of ferocious fighting. 

Insurgents at one point took control of two bridges on Ankara's perimeter. A series of explosions were also heard on Taksim Square and at Istanbul's Ataturk airport and protesters poured into the streets, heeding Erdogan's call to rally in support of his government. 

Protesters confronted insurgents in a series of clashes of street clashes and videos circulated on social media of supposed rebels firing at the civilians. But protesters forced scores of soldiers to surrender en masse in and around Istanbul, including nearly 50 soldiers on the Bosphorus Bridge who abandoned their tanks and weapons when confronted with crowds.

Erdogan was vacationing in the south when the fighting erupted. He spoke to CNN Turk by Facetime late Friday evening insisting that he was still in power and accusing the loyalists of Fethullah Gulen, a rival cleric self-exiled in Pennsylvania, of plotting the coup.

Later, in a press conference from Ataturk airport President Erdogan branded the attempted coup "an action of treason" which those responsible "will have to pay heavily for." He promised to restore order within the divided army and added that he has already issued arrest warrants against the plotters, whom he called "pirates." 

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Turkey Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced that his government appointed 1st Army Commander General Ümit Dündar as the acting Chief of Staff to replace General Hulusi Akar, according to Hurriyet Daily News. 

The commander of Turkey's military special forces, General Zekai Aksakalli, announced during the early hours of Saturday morning that the coup plotters were only a small faction. 

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Opposition parties released statements saying they did not support the coup, and parliament called an emergency meeting.

Pro-Kurdish political party, HDP, condemned the coup in a statement. "The HDP, under any circumstances, in principle, opposes any kind of coup. Turkey urgently needs a pluralistic democracy and complete freedom."

Rumors are circulating of a staged coup, considering how poorly it was executed, to justify Erdogan's tougher grip on power. However, there is no evidence to back up the claims.

The individual Erdogan holds responsible, Gulen, is the founder of what has been called a moderate Islamic movement with schools around the world and a stated commitment to defending human rights. Previously an ally of Erdogan, his relations with the president turned sour, and his supporters in the police published recordings of corruption in his administration in 2014. Erdogan then announced a massive "witch hunt" against Gulen's "parallel structure," taking over his media organization and arresting dozens.

The junta said earlier in an email that they had taken control over the government:

"Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged," they said.

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"All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relationships with all countries will continue."

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the chief of Turkey's military staff was among people taken "hostage" in Ankara but was later released. Erdogan said that he does not know about his current status. CNN Turk also reported that hostages were being held at the military headquarters.

Gunshots were heard throughout the night on Friday, with military jets and helicopters seen flying and opening fire overhead. F16 jets shot down one of the helicopters, reported the Anadolu Agency. Tanks also blocked access to the bridge, lined up at the presidential palace and fired near the parliament building, reported Reuters. Photos circulated social media of protesters climbing on and turning back the tanks.

Mosques used their loudspeakers to blast, "We lay claim to our country." Some are reportedly announcing the call to prayer early and non-stop.

"Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command," Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV shortly after shots were first heard. State media also reported that only a faction of the military was involved and that it was only an attempted coup.

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"The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so."

CNN Turk reported that the army surrounded the ruling AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, and other reports said that shots were fired at both the police headquarters in Ankara and at the MIT intelligence headquarters. Soldiers were also deployed to Taksim Square, where Erdogan supporters gathered, chanting slogans against the coup.

A Turkish official who did not want to be named said soldiers had been deployed in other cities in Turkey, but did not specify which ones. Junta-associated soldiers took over the offices of state-owned TRT, CNN Turk, Hurriyet and Dogan News Agency. They had TRT read a statement, which they said was written by the military, that a curfew has been declared across the country and that martial law has been imposed. They then went off the air but are now back on.

Turkey Blocks, an internet monitoring group, told Reuters that access to Twitter, Youtube and Facebook had been intentionally limited.

Turkey has a long history of military coups but has not seen one in 36 years. The military has been kept secular and maintained its autonomy under Erdogan.

In 2008, the government accused a clandestine secularist group called Ergenekon of staging an attempted coup, resulting in the trial of hundreds of military officials, journalists and lawmakers. The cases were recently overturned because of lack of evidence.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that, "I call for calm and restraint, and full respect for Turkey’s democratic institutions and its constitution. ...Turkey is a valued NATO ally." Turkey has NATO's second-largest military force.

U.S. President Barack Obama also issued a statement, saying he "agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed."

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