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Erdogan Vows Revenge As Turkish Coup Appears To Crumble

  • RFE/RL

An attempted military coup in Turkey appeared to be crumbling as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived back in Istanbul on July 16 and told crowds of supporters he's "not going anywhere."

Calling the uprising that led to a night of confusion, fighting, and mass casualties an "act of treason," Erdogan vowed to exact the most "severe" punishment on the coup supporters and "cleanse" the military of disloyal elements.

"They will pay a heavy price for this act of treason," Erdogan said at Istanbul's airport. "We will not leave our country to occupiers."

Authorities announced that at least 60 people were killed during the coup attempt and 754 members of the armed forces have been arrested so far. Among the dead, the head of Turkey’s police said, are at least 16 coup plotters.

One official was quoted as saying five generals and 29 colonels have been removed from their posts.

Television broadcasts showed soldiers who occupied Istanbul's Taksim Square and the Bosphorus bridge overnight being led away by police as crowds jeered at them.

TURKEY LIVE BLOG: All The Developments As They Happen

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said a general who helped organize the coup was killed. He appointed a new acting chief of military staff, General Umi Dundar, after the previous chief, General Hulusi Akar, was taken hostage by coup plotters.

Turkish broadcasters were reporting that Akar had been freed by a helicopter rescue mission.

Dozens of civilians were killed and hundreds wounded in nightlong battles and street fighting in Istanbul and other cities, with the heaviest casualties of at least 42 dead in Ankara, the scene of the heaviest fighting.

WATCH: Turkish Troops Block Bosphorus Bridges

Yildirim said he had ordered Turkish fighter jets to shoot down any aircraft hijacked by the coup plotters, some of whom remained at large and in the air.

"Those who drive around in tanks will have to go back to where they came from," Erdogan proclaimed, describing a narrow escape from death as coup plotters bombed the hotel where he was staying on holiday in the Marmaris Sea resort, but he had already left.

"The most important thing right now is that millions of Turkish citizens are on the streets" supporting the government, he said. "Turkey has a democratically elected government and president. We are in charge and we will continue exercising our powers until the end. We will not abandon our country to these invaders. It will end well."

Erdogan acknowledged that a "small problem" remained in Ankara, where holdout rebels continued to fight. Fighter jets dropped bombs on tanks still guarding the presidential palace and parliament in that city.

But the tide appeared to turn in Erdogan's favor after he called for citizens to take to the streets to show their support for his government. At the same time, the United States, European Union, NATO, and other critical allies came out firmly behind his government and demanded a return to the rule of law and democracy.

While Erdogan and his deputies fingered a handful of military leaders for leading a "minority" uprising in the military, overall they blamed the coup attempt on a political opponent: the reclusive Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who lives in exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.

Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally with many followers in Turkey's military and government offices, vigorously denied any involvement, saying "governments should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force."

Gulen, 75, added: "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."

A civilian reportedly killed by Turkish soldiers lies on the ground on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul.

A civilian reportedly killed by Turkish soldiers lies on the ground on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul.

While street demonstrators clashed sporadically with soldiers in Istanbul during the putsch, resulting in at least two deaths, authorities said, the battle was much more extensive in the capital, Ankara, where the parliament was bombed several times, planes were shot down, and at least 42 people died in fighting.

Legislators said they were forced to take cover when the parliament was bombed, and some sustained injuries. Nevertheless, Turkish leaders called for an emergency session to reestablish order later on July 16.

During the fighting, 17 police officers were killed in a helicopter attack on a police special forces headquarters on the outskirts of Ankara, the Anadolu news agency reported.

NTV reported that a helicopter used by soldiers backing the coup was shot down by a military jet.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the country after returning to Istanbul during an attempted coup.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the country after returning to Istanbul during an attempted coup.

​The private Dogan news agency reported that tanks were deployed outside the parliament building while jets buzzed overhead. Sporadic blasts were heard in the city during the fighting.

Dozens of tanks were seen moving toward a palace used by the prime minister and deputy prime ministers. A civilian car tried to stop one of the tanks, but it rammed through the vehicle as those in the car escaped.

The struggle was marked by multiple takeovers of television and news outlets by armed factions. The targeted outlets which often showed footage of soldiers entering their premises and forcing statements to be read on air or demanding the shutdown of operations.

By morning, most news stations appeared to be up and running again, and Istanbul's Ataturk airport, which the military had shut down at the outset of the putsch, was scheduled to resume flights at 6 a.m.

At a critical time during the struggle, U.S. President Barack Obama urged all parties to support Erdogan's democratically elected government and to "show restraint and avoid any violence or bloodshed," the White House said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and emphasized the United States' "absolute support" for the government.

People rally on a tank after they took over a military position on the Bosphorus bridge.

People rally on a tank after they took over a military position on the Bosphorus bridge.

Their announcements were echoed quickly afterwards by the leaders of the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, a key colleague of Turkish military officers who called for "full respect for Turkey's democratic institutions and constitution."

EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker on July 16 urged a “swift return” to normalcy in Turkey, saying “there is no alternative to democracy and the rule of law.”

Erdogan's defense and interior ministers called on members of the armed services to stay loyal to the government and fight what they described as a "minority" faction attempting to overthrow it.

The eruption of fighting came after the Turkey's military had said late on July 15 that it had "fully seized control" of running the country in a bid to protect democratic order and to maintain human rights.

State television announced shortly afterward that the military had declared martial law and a curfew.

The military said all of Turkey’s existing foreign relations would be maintained and that the rule of law would be a top priority.

Meanwhile, Anadolu reported that senior members of Turkey’s military were taken hostage at military headquarters in Istanbul -- including the Turkish chief of military staff.

Later, as the situation grew murky, various military officers heading special forces and other factions made television appearances to express support for the government, as did the head of Turkey's main political opposition group.

During the hours that the military asserted control, major social networks were blocked and state television went dark.

One of the first moves by the military was to block off both of the Bosphorus bridges linking the European continent with Asia. They later shut down all incoming and outgoing flights from Istanbul's busy international airport and deployed tanks to guard the entrance.

Turkey’s army has been methodically marginalized during the last 13 years under Erdogan’s leadership of the country.

Analysts say Erdogan has long considered the army as a potentially dangerous adversary. Turkey’s military has forced four civilian governments from power since 1960.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and Dogan News Agency
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