Turkey’s leaders said they crushed an attempted military coup to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after hours of clashes through the night that saw tanks blockading roads, soldiers fighting police and warplanes bombing the parliament in Ankara.
Almost 200 people, including dozens of coup backers, were killed and 2,839 military personnel were arrested, pro-Erdogan forces said. At dawn, about 50 rebel soldiers who had been blocking a bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul were shown on television leaving their tanks and armored carriers with hands raised. By Saturday morning, most international flights were canceled and streets in Ankara and Istanbul were virtually deserted with shops largely shuttered.
Erdogan, who arrived at Istanbul’s international airport at about 6:30 a.m. local time from vacation at the Aegean coastal resort of Marmaris, blamed the plot on followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen — a one-time ally-turned nemesis — and promised swift punishment. “They will pay a heavy price for their treason,” he said. A group backed by the preacher condemned military intervention in domestic politics in a statement on its website.
The plot will likely give Erdogan, who served as prime minister for more than a decade and is the most influential figure in Turkish politics since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, more ammunition to crack down on opponents as he seeks to transform a largely ceremonial presidential post into the center of power.
Yet even as Erdogan appears confident of quashing the bloodiest attempt to end his rule, the attempted coup risks fueling more instability in a country already entangled in the war in neighboring Syria as well as a conflict with Kurdish separatists at home.
Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the government would ramp up its purge of Gulenists within the state after the failed coup attempt.
“The process of clearing parallel treacherous organization from the state will be finalized in a more rapid and efficient way,” he told the pro-government A Haber TV by phone. “Even if they went into the tiniest veins of the state, they will be purged.”
Since 1960, Turkey has experienced at least three takeovers by the secular-minded army. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party government, which came to power in 2002, made it a priority to curb the military’s political influence. The group backing the coup said in a statement that the president and the ruling party had violated the law by undermining democracy and the country’s secular system.
Shortly after news of the attempted takeover, a defiant Erdogan urged the public to take to the streets and public squares in resistance.
The military’s top commanders and Turkey’s main opposition parties were united in rejecting the coup and Turkey’s NATO allies declared their support for the elected government. Mosques echoed Erdogan’s call from their minarets, and local television showed anti-coup crowds gathering in Istanbul, the largest city, and Ankara.
The army faction behind the rebellion briefly took over state-run TV to broadcast a declaration of martial law, saying the government had lost its legitimacy. The network appeared to have been restored to government control. But CNN-Turk, an affiliate of the U.S. news channel, said soldiers entered its headquarters in Istanbul.
“The coup attempt in Turkey seems backed by only a faction in the Turkish military and is unlikely to succeed,” said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security in Washington. “The rest of the Turkish military, plus the intelligence services will keep Erdogan in power.”
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