Turkey widened a crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup yesterday, taking the number of people rounded up in the armed forces and judiciary to 6,000, and the government said it was in full control of the country and economy.
Supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan gathered in front of his Istanbul home to call for the plotters to face the death penalty, which Turkey outlawed in 2004 as part of its efforts to join the European Union.
Erdogan told them that parliament may consider a proposal to bring back the death penalty.
“We cannot ignore this demand,” Erdogan told the chanting crowd. “In democracies, whatever the people say has to happen.”
Pictures on social media showed detained soldiers stripped from the waist up, some wearing only their underpants, handcuffed and lying packed together on the floor of a sports hall where they were being held in Ankara.
One video on Twitter showed detained generals with bruises and bandages. Akin Ozturk, head of the air force until 2015 and identified by three senior officials as one of the suspected masterminds of the coup plot, was among those held.
The Foreign Ministry raised the death toll to more than 290, including over 100 rebels, and said 1,400 people were hurt.
The violence shocked the nation of almost 80m, once seen as a model Muslim democracy, where living standards have risen steadily for more than a decade and where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago.
It also shattered fragile confidence among Turkey’s allies about security in the Nato country, a leading member of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. Turkey had already been hit by repeated suicide bombings over the past year and is struggling to contain an insurgency by Kurdish separatists.
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.
Broadcaster NTV cited Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying more arrests were expected on top of the 6,000 people already detained.
Among those arrested was General Bekir Ercan Van, commander of the Incirlik air base from which U.S. aircraft launch airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, an official said. Erdogan’s chief military assistant was also detained, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
Last night, security forces clashed with remnants of the coup plotters at Istanbul’s second airport and at an air base in central Turkey. Arrests were made and the situation was under control, an official said.
Erdogan said the coup had been put down by the “national will”, blaming “those who cannot bear the unity of our country and are under the orders of masterminds to take over the state”.
He frequently refers to “masterminds” who he says are bent on breaking up Turkey, in what appears a veiled reference to the West in general, and more specifically, the United States.
“Control across Turkey has been restored and there are no clashes at the moment,” said a senior official, adding that although a few groups of coup plotters were holding out in Istanbul, they no longer posed a risk. “There are still a few important soldiers on the run and being sought. I believe they will be captured shortly.”
The crackdown appears to intensify a longstanding push by Erdogan to root out the influence of followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan accuses followers of Gulen, who was once an ally but is now his arch-enemy, of trying to create a “parallel structure” within the courts, police, armed forces, and media with an aim to topple the state.
The cleric denies the charge and says he played no role in the attempted coup, denouncing it as an affront to democracy.
Gulen said last night he would obey any extradition ruling from the United States but claimed President Erdogan had staged the putsch.
“I am not really worried about the extradition request,” Gulen told reporters, speaking through a translator in Pennsylvania where he lives.
Turkey has said it is putting together an extradition request for the cleric. The US government has said it would consider any formal request.
Erdogan promised a purge of the armed forces even before the coup attempt was over. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”
At a rally late on Saturday, his supporters demanded that the coup leaders be executed. “Let’s hang them!” chanted the crowd in Ankara’s central Kizilay square. 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.
“We want the rule of law to work fully in Turkey,” said French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. “(The coup attempt) is not a blank cheque for Mr Erdogan. There cannot be purges, the rule of law must work.”
Ayrault said EU ministers would reiterate today, when they meet in Brussels, that Turkey must conform to Europe’s democratic principles.
And it emerged last night that at the height of the coup bid, the rebel pilots of two F-16 fighter jets had Erdogan’s plane in their sights. And yet he was able to fly on. He was returning to Istanbul from a holiday on the coast.
“At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan’s plane while it was in the air and 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.
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