Turkey cracks down on Gulen movement after abortive coup, widens purge

Turkey vowed to root out allies of the US-based cleric it blames for an abortive coup last week, widening a purge of the army, police and judiciary on Tuesday to the education sector, intelligence agency and religious authorities.

Reuters| Last Updated: Jul 19, 2016, 23:29 PM IST
Turkey cracks down on Gulen movement after abortive coup, widens purge
Pro-government wave Turkish flags as they protest against the attempted coup, in Istanbul, July 19, 2016.

Istanbul: Turkey vowed to root out allies of the US-based cleric it blames for an abortive coup last week, widening a purge of the army, police and judiciary on Tuesday to the education sector, intelligence agency and religious authorities.

President Tayyip Erdogan and the government accuse Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating a failed military takeover on Friday in which at least 232 people were killed, and have called in speeches for his extradition from the United States. Erdogan`s spokesman said a formal extradition request was being prepared.

Authorities have suspended or detained close to 35,000 soldiers, police, judges and civil servants since the coup bid, stirring tensions across the country of 80 million which borders Syria`s chaos and is a key Western ally against Islamic State.

On Tuesday, they shut down media outlets deemed to be supportive of the cleric and said 15,000 people had been fired from the education ministry, 492 from the Religious Affairs Directorate, 257 from the prime minister`s office and 100 intelligence officials.

The lira weakened to beyond 3 to the U.S. dollar after state broadcaster TRT said all university deans had been ordered to resign, recalling the sorts of broad purges seen in the wake of successful military coups of the past. 

Turkey`s Western allies have expressed solidarity with the government over the coup attempt but also alarm at the scale and swiftness of the response, urging the country to adhere to democratic values.

Seventy-five-year-old Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has denied any involvement in the coup bid, and has suggested the president staged it as an excuse for a crackdown.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim accused Washington, which said it will only consider extradition if clear evidence is provided, of double standards in its fight against terrorism.

Yildirim said the justice ministry had sent a dossier to US authorities on Gulen, whose religious movement blends conservative, Islamic values with a pro-Western outlook and who has a network of supporters within Turkey.

"We have more than enough evidence, more than you could ask for, on Gulen," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters outside parliament. "There is no need to prove the coup attempt, all evidence shows that the coup attempt was organised on his will and orders."

Ankara says followers of Gulen, who lives on a compound in Pennsylvania`s Pocono mountains, have infiltrated Turkey`s institutions and are running a "parallel state".

Seeking to quash any suggestion of lingering instability, the army said it had resumed full control. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus denied reports 14 naval vessels were missing and their commanders were seeking to defect.

Kurtulmus also told reporters 9,322 people were under legal proceedings in relation to the attempted coup.

Eight soldiers have sought asylum in neighbouring Greece and Turkey says they must be handed back or it will not help relations between the neighbours, which have long been uneasy.

In a defiant speech in parliament, Yildirim said the fact civilians had been targeted in the attempted power grab by a faction in the military made it unprecedented in the history of Turkey, which last saw a violent coup more than 30 years ago.

"I`m sorry but this parallel terrorist organisation will no longer be an effective pawn for any country," Yildirim said. "We will dig them up by their roots so that no clandestine terrorist organisation will have the nerve to betray our blessed people again."

Around 1,400 people were wounded as soldiers commandeered tanks, attack helicopters and warplanes, strafing parliament and the intelligence headquarters and trying to seize the main airport and bridges in Istanbul. 

The army general staff said it would punish "in the most severe way" any members of the armed forces responsible for what it called "this disgrace", adding that most had nothing to do with the coup.

Some Western leaders expressed concern that Erdogan, who said he was almost killed or captured by the mutineers, was using the opportunity to consolidate power and further a process of stifling dissent. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein, voiced "serious alarm" on Tuesday at the mass suspension of judges and prosecutors and urged Turkey to allow independent monitors to visit those who have been detained.

The foreign ministry has said criticism of the government`s response amounts to backing the coup.

Turkey scrapped capital punishment in 2004 as part of its push to join the European Union, and European leaders have warned Ankara that restoring it would derail its EU aspirations.

But in the aftermath of the coup, Erdogan has repeatedly called for parliament to consider his supporters` demands to apply the death penalty for the plotters.

Yildirim said Turkey would respect the rule of law and not be driven by revenge in prosecuting suspected coup plotters. Speaking alongside the leader of the main secularist opposition Republican People`s Party (CHP), he said the country must avoid the risk that some people try to exploit the current situation.

"We need unity... and brotherhood now," he said. 

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a right-wing grouping and the smallest of the three opposition parties represented in parliament, said it would back the government if it decides to restore the death penalty. 

More than 6,000 soldiers and around 1,500 others have been detained since the abortive coup. Some 8,000 police officers, including in the capital Ankara and the biggest city Istanbul, have been removed on suspicion of links to the plot.

Some 1,500 finance ministry officials have also been removed from their posts. Annual leave has been suspended for more than three million civil servants, while close to 3,000 judges and prosecutors have also been purged. A court remanded 26 generals and admirals in custody on Monday, Turkish media said.

Officials in Ankara say former air force chief Akin Ozturk, who has appeared in detention with his face and arms bruised and one ear bandaged, was a co-leader of the coup. Turkish media said on Monday he had denied this to prosecutors, saying he had tried to prevent the attempted putsch.

Yildirim said Turkey needed to ensure "100 percent security" of the whole country.

The coup crumbled after Erdogan, on holiday with his family at the coastal resort of Marmaris, phoned in to a television news programme and called for his followers to take to the streets. He was able to fly into Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday, after the rebel pilots had his plane in their sights but did not shoot it down.

He said on Monday he might have died if he had left Marmaris any later and that two of his close bodyguards had been killed. 

The bloodshed shocked the nation of almost 80 million, where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago, and shattered fragile confidence in the stability of a NATO member state already rocked by Islamic State suicide bombings and an insurgency by Kurdish militants.

Since the coup was put down, Erdogan has said enemies of the state still threatened the nation and has urged Turks to take to the streets every night until Friday to show support for the government. Thousands took to squares in Turkey`s three biggest cities on Monday, the third day in a row.