Forces loyal to the Turkish government fought on Saturday to crush the remnants of a military coup attempt which crumbled after crowds answered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets and dozens of rebels abandoned their tanks.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 161 people had been killed and 1,440 wounded 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.
The death toll given by Yildirim was lower than a previous military-provided total of 194 people.
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 also 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.”
One government minister said some military commanders were still being held hostage by the plotters. But the government declared the situation fully under control, saying 161 people had been killed and 2,839 had been rounded up from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who had formed “the backbone” of the rebellion.
A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled the country of about 80 million people since 2003, would have marked one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years, transforming a major U.S. ally while war rages on its border.
However, a failed coup attempt could still destabilize a NATO member that lies between the European Union and the chaos of Syria, with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) bombers targeting Turkish cities and the government also at war with Kurdish separatists.
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 TV outside Ataturk Airport.
Addressing a crowd of thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport later, Erdogan said the government remained at the helm, although disturbances continued in Ankara.
Erdogan says he was targeted
Erdogan, whose Islamist-rooted ideology lies at odds with supporters of modern Turkey’s secular principles, said the
plotters had tried to attack him in the resort town of Marmaris.
“They bombed places I had departed right after I was gone,” he said. “They probably thought we were still there.”
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.
Operations involving police special forces and the military were still underway to regain control of the armed forces
headquarters in Ankara, one official said.
While loved by his supporters, Erdogan’s conservative religious views have also alienated many ordinary Turks who
accuse him of authoritarianism. Police used heavy force in 2013 to suppress mass protest demanding more freedom.
In a night that sometimes verged on the bizarre, Erdogan took to social media even though he is an avowed enemy of the technology when his opponents use it, frequently targeting Twitter and Facebook.
Erdogan 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 so viewers to the network could see him.
He said the “parallel structure” was behind the coup attempt — his shorthand for followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim 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 nemesis.
Gulen on Saturday playing any role in the attempted coup.
“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey,” Gulen said in a statement. “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.”
The pro-coup faction said in an emailed statement from the Turkish military General Staff’s media office address that it
was determinedly still fighting.
Gunfire and explosions had 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.
Soldiers abandon tanks
About 50 soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on one of the bridges across the Bosporus Strait in Istanbul after dawn on Saturday, abandoning their tanks with their hands raised in the air. Reuters witnesses saw government supporters attack the pro-coup soldiers who had surrendered.
Earlier, around 30 pro-coup soldiers had surrendered their weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul’s
central Taksim square.
They were taken away in police vans as a fighter jet repeatedly screeched overhead at low altitude, causing a boom
that shook surrounding buildings and shattered windows.
Neighbouring Greece arrested eight men aboard a Turkish military helicopter which landed in the northern city of
Alexandroupolis on Saturday, the country’s police ministry said, adding that they had requested political asylum.
Warplanes roar over Ankara
The coup began with warplanes and helicopters roaring over Ankara and troops moving in to seal off the bridges over the Bosporus Strait that links Europe and Asia in Istanbul.
Maritime authorities shut Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait to transiting tankers “for security and safety” reasons, shipping
agent GAC said.
In the early hours of Saturday, lawmakers were hiding in shelters inside the parliament building, which was being fired
on by tanks. Smoke rose up from nearby, Reuters witnesses said. An opposition MP told Reuters parliament was hit three times and that people had been wounded.
A senior Turkish official said later on Saturday attacks on the parliament had “largely stopped”.
A Turkish military commander also said fighter jets had shot down a helicopter used by the coup plotters over Ankara. State-run Anadolu news agency said 17 police were killed at special forces headquarters there.
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.
The Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said the coup was “foiled by the Turkish people in unity and solidarity.” It said not all the Turkish armed forces were behind the move.
“It was conducted by a clique within the Armed Forces and received a well-deserved response from our nation,” the statement said.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said on Twitter he is “very concerned about reports from Turkey.”
Global Affairs Canada also went on Twitter to offer assistance to Canadians who may be trapped in the country, telling them to call 90 (312) 409-2700 or to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he phoned the Turkish foreign minister and underlined “absolute support for
Turkey’s democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions”.
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