Judiciary, armed forces purge under way

Call to US for arch-foe Gulen’s extradition

ISTANBUL: Turkish forces loyal to President Tayyip Erdogan 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.

Over 250 people were killed, including many 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, which last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago.

“They will pay a heavy price for this,” said Erdogan, who saw off mass public protests against his rule three years ago. “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.

Alparslan Altan, one of 17 judges on the constitutional court, was taken into custody, the private NTV television reported, without specifying what he was accused of.

Earlier, the judicial authorities said that some 2,745 judges across the country would be dismissed in the wake of the coup.

At one stage, military commanders were held hostage by the plotters, a minister said. By Saturday evening there were still isolated rebel pockets but the government declared the situation fully under control, saying 2,839 people had been rounded up, from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who had formed “the backbone” of the rebellion.

Anadolu news agency said one of those detained was the commander general of the third army, one of Turkey’s most senior military officials. “General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army, has been detained,” it quoted an official as saying.

A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled the country of about 80 million people since 2003, would have marked another seismic shift in the Middle East, five years after the Arab uprisings erupted and plunged Turkey’s southern neighbour Syria into civil war.

Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and was shown on television outside Ataturk Airport.

Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport later, he said the government remained at the helm, although disturbances continued in Ankara.

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.”

He on Saturday urged the United States to extradite the preacher Fethullah Gulen, who he accuses of masterminding the failed coup, to face justice in Turkey.

“The United States — you must extradite that person,” he told thousands of supporters in Istanbul, referring to Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and has denied any involvement in Friday’s attempted coup.

Erdogan’s AK Party has long had strained relations with the military, which has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism although it has not seized power directly since 1980.

His conservative vision for Turkey’s future has also alienated many ordinary citizens who accuse him of authoritarianism. However, he commands the admiration and loyalty of millions of Turks, particularly for restoring order to an economy once beset by regular crises. Living standards have risen steadily under his rule.

Lawmakers in hiding

The coup attempt began in the night with warplanes and helicopters roaring over Ankara and troops moving in to seal off the bridges over the Bosphorus, which separates Europe and Asia in Istanbul.

In the early hours of Saturday, lawmakers hid in shelters inside the parliament building, which was fired on by tanks. An opposition deputy said that the parliament was hit three times and people had been wounded.

When parliament convened later in the day, the four main political parties — running the gamut from Erdogan’s right-wing, Islamist-rooted AK Party to the left-of-centre, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — came together in a rare show of unity to condemn the attempted coup.

Smartphone address

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.

He 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 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, once supported Erdogan but became a leading adversary. He condemned the attempted coup and said he played no role in it.

Soldiers surrender

Gunfire and explosions 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. 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, abandoning their tanks with their hands raised in the air. Witnesses saw government supporters attack the pro-coup soldiers who had surrendered.

By Saturday afternoon, CNN Turk reported that security forces had completed an operation against coup plotters at the headquarters of the military general staff. Security sources also said police detained about 100 military officers at an airbase in the southeast.

How the tide turned

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.

“We have a prime minister, we have a chief of command, we’re not going to leave this country to degenerates,” shouted one man, as groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Ataturk airport.

At the height of the action, rebel soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law. An announcer read a statement on the orders of the pro-coup faction that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. Turkey would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2016

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