- Erdogan demands US arrest exiled cleric Over 200 killed, close to 3,000 soldiers arrested
Demola Ojo with agency reports
How important the support of the people could be to an elected government was on display on Friday night in Turkey as a military coup was foiled by the will-power of the people who trooped out to protest against attempt to oust the democratically elected government of President Recep Erdogan.
About 2,839 soldiers, including high-ranking officers, were arrested after the botched coup due to popular resistance. Those held include two army generals, according to Turkish media. Explosions and firing were heard in key cities on Friday night but thousands heeded a call by President Erdogan to rise up against the coup-plotters.
At a point during the attempted takeover of power, Erdogan had to broadcast to his nation via a mobile phone, fueling street protests and urging military forces loyal to the president to suppress the coup that left at least 265 dead. Turkish authorities say 104 were suspected coup-plotters. At least a further 1,440 people have been wounded.
Erdogan, who returned to Istanbul in the early hours of yesterday morning from his holiday in the resort of Marmaris, said the attempted coup was “treason” undertaken by “a minority within our armed forces”.
The rebel army faction – who called themselves the Peace Council and denounced Erdogan’s increasingly non-secular and autocratic approach – said they were trying to overthrow the government to “protect human rights”. Among them are 29 colonels and five generals. Rear Admiral Nejat Atilla Demirhan and General Memduh Hakbilen, the chief of staff of Turkey’s command for the Aegean region, are said to be among those detained.
“They will pay a heavy price for this,” Erdogan warned, calling for the death penalty to be reintroduced. Meanwhile 2,745 Turkish judges have been dismissed in the wake of the failed coup.
“This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army,” the president said in response to the bloodiest challenge to his 13-year-rule.
“The president, whom 52 per cent of the people brought to power, is in charge,” Erdogan said. “This government brought to power by the people, is in charge. They won’t succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything.”
Turkish authorities named Akin Ozturk, a former air force commander, as one of the “masterminds of the coup” alongside two army generals, Adem Huduti and Avni Angun.
However Erdogan blamed a “parallel structure” for the coup – a reference to Fethullah Gulen, a powerful but reclusive US-based Muslim cleric whom he accuses of fomenting unrest. In a televised speech yesterday night, he called on the US to extradite Gulen. Gülen’s followers were known to have a strong presence in Turkey’s police and judiciary, but less so in the military.
The cleric, however, condemned the attempted coup and said he played no part in it, but Erdogan has demanded his US allies hand him over for questioning.
But Gülen said, “I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey. Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force.
“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 coup was defeated with the aid of tens of thousands of Erdogan supporters who poured on to the streets after the president flew back to Istanbul in the middle of the night, using a hastily arranged press conference to urge them to take back control.
By the time the last plotters surrendered on the Bosphorus bridge, the crowds had descended on the disarmed rebels, beating them with clubs and humiliating the failed soldiers as they cowered on the ground.
By yesterday morning, all symbols of the coup had been dismantled, or hijacked by government supporters. Some stood on top of an abandoned armoured vehicle in the middle of the main highway into Istanbul. “Erdogan, Erdogan, he will never fail us,” they shouted into the windows of cars driving past.
The permanent army chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, was freed by government forces having been held hostage at an army base in Ankara for a period, an official told Al Jazeera.
In a related development, Greek officials said a Turkish military helicopter landed in the city of Alexandroupolis, close to the border, and that eight people had claimed asylum. Turkey’s foreign minister said the government had requested their extradition.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama urged all parties to back the “democratically elected” government while EU officials – Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Federica Mogherini – issued a statement supporting the Turkish government. In a similar vein, UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said military interference in the affairs of any state is unacceptable.