October 25, 2016

Erdogan back in Ankara as thousands hit by Turkey purge

Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was Wednesday to chair a crunch security meeting in Ankara for the first time since the failed coup, with tens of thousands either detained or sacked from their jobs in a widening purge.

The Turkish air force meanwhile launched their first strikes against targets of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq since the putsch aimed at unseating Erdogan, in a sign he has regained full control over the armed forces.

The coup represented the most serious threat to Erdogan`s 13 year domination of Turkey, and the president has said he came within 15 minutes of being killed or kidnapped by the plotters before escaping.

The putsch left over 300 dead and caused scenes of devastation, especially in Ankara where raids by F-16s and attack helicopters on strategic targets terrified residents and turned parts of parliament and the police headquarters to rubble.

More than 9,000 suspects have been detained, including some of Turkey`s most senior generals, and thousands of officials, police and teachers dismissed from their posts.

Erdogan, who was in the Aegean resort of Marmaris when the coup struck late Friday, flew to Istanbul where he had stayed since, appearing before supporters each night in a “vigil” for democracy.

But the president returned to the capital late Tuesday for the first time since the coup, a Turkish official told AFP.

He also held his first international bilateral meeting, hosting Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili at his presidential palace in Ankara.

The president will later Wednesday around 0900 GMT chair a meeting of his national security council at the presidential palace, his office said. The council is composed of top military figures and security ministers.

Erdogan will then at 1200 GMT chair a meeting of the cabinet, also at the palace, whose immediate vicinity was bombed during the botched coup bid.

Erdogan told supporters in Istanbul on Monday that “an important decision” would be announced after the national security council meeting, without specifying.The crunch meetings come as controversy grows over the scope of the legal crackdown against those behind the coup plot, with global leaders urging Turkey to obey the rule of law.

Erdogan`s suggestion that the death penalty could be reinstated has also sent shudders through Europe, with the EU warning such a move would be the nail in the coffin of Turkey`s already embattled bid to join the bloc.

Ankara says the coup was masterminded by the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and the legal crackdown appears to be targeting individuals suspected of any connection to him.

On Tuesday, the government suspended 15,200 state education employees and demanded the resignation of almost 1,600 deans from private and state universities over alleged links to Gulen.

Gulen lives in Pennsylvania but retains vast interests in Turkey ranging from media to finance to schools and wields influence in various apparatus including the judiciary and police.

About 9,300 people have also been detained, including top generals accused of treason for allegedly masterminding the plot as well as soldiers, police and judges.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim nevertheless warned Turks against exacting “revenge” on backers of the attempted overthrow, after disturbing pictures emerged of rough treatment meted out to suspects.

MPs have meanwhile carried on working in parliament, despite rubble and shards of glass still covering the floor after three air strikes on the night of the coup.

The Ankara police headquarters is in an even worse state, with the entire 10-storey building gutted by repeated air attacks and the air still thick with dust from the rubble.

“I do not know how long the rebuilding will take. But we have started,” a senior Turkish police official told AFP at the scene, surveying the extent of the damage.

Turkey accuses Gulen of running a “terror group” and has stepped up the pressure on Washington to extradite him, sending several “dossiers” it says are packed with evidence about his alleged involvement.

Gulen in a statement urged Washington Tuesday to reject Turkey`s efforts to extradite him and rejected as “ridiculous” the claim he was behind the botched coup.

In their first telephone talks since the coup, US President Barack Obama pledged US assistance to Erdogan for the investigation into the putsch, which has threatened to again raise tensions between Washington and Ankara.

The government says 312 people were killed in the coup, including 145 civilians, 60 police, three soldiers and 104 plotters.

Before the plot erupted, the government had been waging a relentless military campaign against Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country and their rear bases in northern Iraq.

In the first air strikes since the coup, F-16 fighter jets late Tuesday hit targets of the PKK in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq, said the state-run Anadolu news agency, quoting security sources. It claimed 20 fighters were killed.

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