Saturday 24 February 2018

Turkey's military stages coup to oust Erdogan's regime

Turkish soldiers are seen on the Asian side of Istanbul. Photo: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
Turkish soldiers are seen on the Asian side of Istanbul. Photo: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

Dean Gray

Turkey's military tried to take over the country last night and oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.

But there was violence on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. There were reports of clashes with the army, gunfire at Istanbul Airport and explosions around parliament in Ankara.

Turkish President Erdogan makes a speech. Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Handout
Turkish President Erdogan makes a speech. Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Handout

The state broadcaster was taken over by the military but taken back by protesters.

World leaders denounced the coup and called for the democratically elected government to be restored. US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the President.

President Erdogan called his supporters onto the streets to resist the coup.

Tanks roamed the streets of Istanbul, jets flew overhead and gunfire broke out on the Bosphorus bridge with reports of 17 police dead.

President Erdogan said the action was by a "parallel structure" within the military and it would bring the necessary response.

Mr Erdogan said: "I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people."

In neighbouring Syria, however, there was celebratory gunfire on the streets of the Syrian capital, Damascus, as supporters of President Bashir al-Assad hoped for the overthrow of the Turkish regime that has consistently sought Assad's overthrow.

A European Union source monitoring events said: "It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a substantial body of the military, not just a few colonels. They've got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station. They control several strategic points in Istanbul.

Another European diplomat said: "This is clearly not some tinpot little coup."

The Turkish military put out a statement on state TV, saying it had seized control "to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms".

Read more: Turkey no stranger to military coups over last 50 years

A group within Turkey's military engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup last night, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told private NTV television: "It is correct that there was an attempt," when asked if there was a coup.

Mr Yildirim didn't provide details, but said Turkey would never allow any "initiative that would interrupt democracy."

"We are focusing on the possibility of an attempt (coup)," Mr Yildirim said. "There was an illegal act by a group within the military that was acting out of the chain of military command. Our people should know that we will not allow any activity that would harm democracy."

Earlier, military jets were heard flying over the capital, Ankara. Media reports said ambulances were seen in front of the Turkish military headquarters. NTV is reporting that helicopters are also flying over headquarters in Ankara.

"There are certain groups who took the arms trusted to them by the state and pointed them toward state employees," Mr Yildirim said. "We shall determine soon who they are. Our security forces have acted against these groups."

The Dogan news agency says one-way traffic on the Bosporus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges were blocked. Video footage showed the bridge being blocked by military vehicles.

Helicopter Reuters reported that all flights were cancelled from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, where 41 people were killed and 239 injured in a suicide bombing last month.

Gabriel Turner (23) a management consultant from north London, is on holiday in Istanbul and described how there had been heavy police and security presence throughout the day before the military coup got under way after sunset.

He told reporters: "Earlier today there were police everywhere. I thought that was normal but the two Turkish girls I was with told me it wasn't normal. We were walking around the centre of Istanbul, at the Grand Bazaar there were police at every entrance and exit with lots of guns.

"A police helicopter was flying very low at sunset, it was about 8pm. It looked like it was searching for something. Later on, at about 10.30 I was in Karakoy, a bar area in the city centre and everyone started looking at their phones. A man who owns the bar told us that the army are taking over everything.

"Then we walked down towards a quieter area by the sea. While we were walking, my friend said the army had closed brides across the Bosphorus. We could see army helicopters in the sky.

"We went inside a cafe and everyone was on their phones looking worried, texting. Lots of people were running to catch a ferry - because the bridges were shutting and people wanted to get home. Then policemen came out of the ferries on their walkie talkies, looking very alert."

Meanwhile, earlier yesterday, Turkey's prime minister had suggested his country would normalise diplomatic ties with Syria, hinting at a reversal in Ankara's hardline stance on its neighbour's five-year conflict.

"It is our greatest and irrevocable goal: developing good relations with Syria and Iraq, and all our neighbours that surround the Mediterranean and the Black Sea," Mr Yildirim said yesterday.

Turkey has been a fierce opponent of President Bashar al-Assad's regime since civil war broke out in Syria five years ago. The government has insisted on Assad's departure, and sponsored rebel groups fighting the regime.

Read more: Chaos in Turkey as army claims control of country

But the country has also been alarmed at the rise of Syrian Kurdish groups fighting against Isil and backed by the US, fearing it may inflame its own conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group seeking autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish region.

Officials also indicated a weariness with Turkey's diplomatic isolation, recently restoring ties with Russia and Israel in a "more friends, fewer enemies" policy.

"We normalised relations with Russia and Israel. I'm sure we will normalise our relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed, stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq," said Mr Yildirim.

Turkey's support for the Syrian opposition put it in conflict with Moscow, coming to a head with the downing of Russian aircraft by a Turkish jet last November.

Read more:

But the two countries ended their nine-month diplomatic freeze at the end of June, with Turkey's foreign minister pledging to coordinate its Syria policy with Russia. Turkey also restored ties with Israel last month after relations broke down in 2010.

Reconciliation with Damascus has seemed a distant prospect, though, with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for the removal of his one-time close friend Assad, and the Syrian president railing against Ankara's sponsorship of Syrian rebels.

Speaking in the border town of Kilis just last week, Mr Erdogan said of Mr Assad: "He is a more advanced terrorist than Daesh," using the Arabic acronym for Isil.

But in June an official of the governing AKP party said of President Assad: "He does not support Kurdish autonomy. We may not like each other, but on that we're backing the same policy."

A Turkish official speaking on condition of anonymity yesterday said that Mr Yildirim's comments did not signal a change in Ankara's hardline stance on Assad.

"There is a distinction between Syria and Bashar al-Assad. We hope, at some point, relations between Turkey and Syria will get back to normal. That's all it is," the official said.

Irish Independent

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