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Turkey Clamps Down After Attempted Coup

July 16, 2016, 4:39 PM UTC
Military Occupy Strategic Locations In Turkey :
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 15: Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Reports have suggested that a group within Turkey's military have attempted to overthrow the government. Security forces have been called in as Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim denounced an "illegal action" by a military "group", with bridges closed in Istanbul and aircraft flying low over the capital of Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
Gokhan Tan — Getty Images

Turkish authorities arrested thousands of military personnel on Saturday after the government declared it had successfully resisted an attempt by armed forces officers to stage a coup.

The arrests marked an apparent clampdown within the state as the government of elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempted to project an image of complete control. The roundup followed a chaotic night in which about 200 people died in violence around the country after military officers announced they had seized power.

Landing at Istanbul’s main airport early on Saturday after returning from southern Turkey, Erdogan said the coup attempt was an “act of treason” and that the perpetrators will pay a “heavy price.” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called the attempt a “black stain for Turkish democracy.”

At least 2,839 soldiers were detained on accusations of participating in the coup attempt, Yildirim said during a news conference on Saturday. Authorities also removed 2,745 judges from duty, according to Turkish broadcaster NTV.

Members of the military announced that they had taken control of Turkey in a statement sent to journalists and read out by at least one presenter on national television on Friday night. The government declared it was still in control having thwarted an attempted coup, but tanks appeared in streets and military jets circled overhead. Warplanes launched at least one airstrike in Ankara, according to Erdogan.

Read more: Turkey’s Government Says Military Coup Is Over

In his first appearance on television following the declared coup, Erdogan appeared in a video chat on a news presenter’s phone in a moment that suggested a precarious grip on power. Speaking to his supporters, he told them to resist the coup. After hours of suspense and mayhem in the streets, the president reiterated his hold on power in a dramatic address from the Istanbul airport moments after landing, even as gunfire echoed in the streets of the city.

Erdogan blamed the attempted coup on an influential U.S.-based religious figure, Fethullah Gulen, who leads a large movement within Turkey. Regarded as an Islamist, Gulen was once an ally of Erdogan in Turkish politics before the two men and their respective power bases split. Gulen denied any connection with the attempted takeover in a statement. Prime minister Yildirim later on Saturday said any country standing by Gulen would be considered at war with Turkey, according to Reuters.

Other than Gulen himself, the government has not yet identified any ringleaders of the coup. Deputy Chief of Staff Ümit Dündar said the plot had taken place outside the chain of command. He added on Saturday that air force command, the gendarmerie, and other armed forces units had been involved in the plot, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. The coup leaders commanded tanks and some warplanes, but it remains unclear how many officers in which branches of the military participated.

Turkey’s military has ousted four governments in separate incidents since 1960. President Erdogan was widely believed to be concerned about the prospect of another coup, and obsessed with the fate of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a coup backed by mass protest in July 2013.

“It’s a fuzzy coup. Fuzzy in the sense that it has been carried outside the chain of command of the military, which made a big difference in terms of its prospects of success,” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM. “It was also fuzzy because its tactical blueprints proved to be largely ineffective.”

By midday on Saturday, there were few signs of any attempted insurrection. In Taksim Square, a tiny group of pro-government demonstrators rallied as police looked on. Gone were the soldiers who had appeared in the square the night before. Nearby workers using a crane repaired windows blown out by a series of sonic booms that shook the city the night before as military jets screamed overhead.

Early on Saturday morning, soldiers blocking a bridge over the Strait of the Bosphorus appeared to surrender, with television footage showing the troops abandoning their positions.

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