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Miscarried coup carries Erdogan up in strength

Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned to Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday morning

The failed military coup that left more than 250 dead appears to have bolstered Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s immediate grip on power and boosted his popularity, rather than toppling Turkey’s strongman president.

Tens of thousands marched through the streets in half a dozen Turkish cities on Saturday night, waving flags and singing songs in an emotional outpouring of support for the long-time leader as security forces rounded up military personnel it branded coup supporters and launched a purge of judges seen as government opponents.

Prime minister Binali Yildirim said the perpetrators of Friday’s failed coup “will receive every punishment they deserve” and the government said it would take steps towards extraditing a US-based cleric it accused of fomenting the uprising.

The government threat of further crackdowns raised concerns over the future of democracy in Turkey, which has long prided itself in its democratic and secular traditions despite being in a tumultuous region swept by conflict and extremism.

The coup attempt began on Friday night with tanks rolling into the streets of the capital Ankara and Istanbul as Mr Erdogan was enjoying a seaside holiday. Explosions and gunfire erupted throughout the night.

It quickly became clear, however, that the military was not united in the effort to overthrow the government. In a dramatic iPhone interview broadcast on TV, Mr Erdogan urged his supporters into the streets to confront the troops and tanks – and forces loyal to the government began reasserting control.

The unrest claimed at least 265 lives, according to a tally compiled from official statements. Mr Yildirim said 161 people were killed and 1,440 wounded in the process of putting down the coup attempt.

Turkey’s acting chief of the general staff, General Umit Dundar said at least 104 “coup plotters” had died.

Before the weekend’s chaos, Turkey, a Nato member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, had been wracked by political turmoil that critics blamed on Mr Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

He has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissidents, restricted the news media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels.

By Saturday afternoon, when tensions eased, an atmosphere of celebration broke around as Turks answered official calls to rally in the squares to protect Turkish democracy. Thousands gathered in major cities singing and waving Turkish flags while others held prayers in support of Mr Erdogan and chanted “God is great”.

In Istanbul, crowds gathered at Taksim Square, where a man stood on an iconic monument with a Turkish flag draped on his chest.

Government supporters marched through Ankara as cars honked in apparent approval. Some gathered outside parliament and amid the burnt cars outside the presidential palace. One man took a selfie with a Turkish police officer atop an abandoned tank.

“We are here for democracy, so the country lasts,” retired soldier Nusret Tuzak said at the Ankara gathering.

By late Saturday afternoon, flights had resumed into Istanbul’s international airport after being halted for nearly 24 hours. Mostly national carriers were flying into Istanbul, but other airlines preferred to wait another day to test the precarious security situation.

By the evening, the usually buzzing airport was eerily quiet with some stranded travellers sitting on the floor of largely empty terminals.

In an usual show of unity, Turkey’s four main political parties released a joint declaration during an extraordinary parliamentary meeting, denouncing the coup attempt and claiming that any moves against the people or parliament will be met “with the iron will of the Turkish Grand National Assembly resisting them”.

Turkey’s Nato allies lined up to condemn the coup attempt. US president Barack Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg urged all sides to support Turkey’s democratically-elected government.

Government forces arrested 2,839 accused coup supporters, Mr Yildirim said, and Gen Dundar said the plotters were mainly air force officers, the military police and armoured units.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the government dismissed 2,745 judges across Turkey. Two constitutional court judges were also detained over their alleged role in the coup attempt, according to a Turkish official.

Officials accused the judges and the coup plotters of being loyal to moderate cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr Erdogan has often accused of attempting to overthrow the government.

Mr Gulen, a staunch democracy advocate who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, strongly denied any role in, or knowledge of, the coup.

Ankara recently classified his movement as a terrorist organisation but Washington has never found any particularly compelling evidence against the cleric.

In a televised speech on Saturday, Mr Erdogan called on the United States to extradite Mr Gulen and an official said Turkey was preparing a formal extradition application.

US secretary of state John Kerry said America would entertain an extradition request, but Turkey would have to present “legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny”.

Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at the Chatham House think-tank in London, said the attempted coup appeared to have been “carried out by lower-ranking officers”.

“Their main gripe seems to have been President Erdogan’s attempt to transform his office into a powerful and centralised executive presidency,” he said.

“In the short term, this failed coup plot will strengthen President Erdogan.”

Turkey’s military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, a pious mentor of Mr Erdogan, out of power in 1997.


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Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

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