Wednesday 13 December 2017

Chaos in Turkey as army claims control of country

Under siege president calls people onto streets. Troops open fire on protesters in Istanbul. Tanks outside main airport, bridges seized

President Recep Tayyi Erdogan gives a press conference. Photo: PA/Getty
President Recep Tayyi Erdogan gives a press conference. Photo: PA/Getty

Nick Tattersall

Turkish troops said yesterday they had seized power but President Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the attempted coup would be put down and crowds answered his call to defy a curfew order and take to the streets to support him.

Gunfire and explosions rocked both the main city Istanbul and capital Ankara in a chaotic night, but by the early hours of Saturday there were indications that the coup was crumbling.

Troops take to the streets. Photo: PA Getty
Troops take to the streets. Photo: PA Getty

Several bombs exploded at the parliament building in Ankara injuring police officers.

The attempted overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would mark one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years, transforming one of the most important U.S. allies while war rages on its border. If it fails, the coup attempt could still destabilise a pivotal country in the region.

"We will overcome this," Erdogan said, speaking on a video call to a mobile phone held up to the camera by an announcer on the Turkish sister station of CNN. He called on his followers to take to the streets to defend his government and said the coup plotters would pay a heavy price.

An official said Erdogan was speaking from Marmaris on the Turkish coast where he was on holiday. A Turkish official later said Erdogan's plane had landed in Istanbul.

A Turkish military commander said fighter jets had shot down a helicopter used by the coup plotters over Ankara. State-run Anadolu news agency said 17 police were killed at special forces headquarters there.

As the night wore on, crowds appeared to be answering Erdogan's call to take to the streets, defying orders by the coup leaders to stay indoors.

"We have a prime minister, we have a chief of command, we're not going to leave this country to degenerates," shouted one man, as groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Istanbul's Ataturk airport.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other senior officials said the elected government remained in office. Yildirim and other officials blamed loyalists of a U.S.-based cleric for the coup attempt; his movement denied any part in it.

A man approaches Turkish military with his hands up at the entrance to the Bosphorus bridge. Photo: PA Getty
A man approaches Turkish military with his hands up at the entrance to the Bosphorus bridge. Photo: PA Getty

The United States declared its backing for Erdogan's government. Secretary of State John Kerry said he phoned the Turkish foreign minister and emphasised "absolute support for Turkey's democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions".

Crowds of people, some waving Turkish flags, gathered in major squares in Istanbul and Ankara to show support for the elected government. Police urged people to leave Istanbul's Taksim square, warning military aircraft could open fire.

Warplanes and helicopters roared over Ankara and reporters saw a helicopter open fire. Anadolu said military helicopters had fired on the headquarters of the intelligence agency.


A man is carried from the Bosphoros Bridge after being shot. Photo: PA Getty
A man is carried from the Bosphoros Bridge after being shot. Photo: PA Getty

Journalists saw tanks open fire near the parliament building in Ankara, which they had surrounded. Anadolu later said a bomb hit the building. Smoke rose up from nearby, witnesses said. An opposition MP said parliament was hit three times and that people had been wounded.

In the first hours of the coup attempt, airports were shut, access to internet social media sites was cut off, and troops sealed off the two bridges over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, one of which was still lit up in red, white and blue in solidarity with victims of the truck attack in France the previous day.

Soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law.

An announcer read a statement on the orders of the military that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. The country would be run by a "peace council" that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.

Shortly afterwards, TRT went off the air. It resumed broadcasting in the early hours of Saturday.

Anadolu said the chief of Turkey's military staff was among people taken "hostage" in the capital Ankara, but Yildirim later said he was back in control. CNN Turk also reported that hostages were being held at the military headquarters.

The coup attempt in Turkey involved a substantial part of the military and "not just a few colonels", a European Union source monitoring events in the EU candidate country said last night.

"It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a substantial body of the military, not just a few colonels," the source told reporters.

Turkey's armed forces said they had "fully seized control" of the country last night, citing rising autocratic rule and increased terrorism.

The military statement read on state TV came after gunfire was heard outside military headquarters, fighter jets buzzed over the capital and vehicles blocked two major bridges in Istanbul.

There were reports that soldiers had opened fire on protesters trying to cross Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge.

However, the country's prime minister, Binali Yildirim, said there was an "attempt" at a coup.

And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an interview over FaceTime with CNN Turk, dismissed the action as "an attempt at an uprising by a minority within our armed forces."

His office declined to disclose his whereabouts, saying only that he was in a secure location.

"I'm making a call out to my people. I'm inviting them out to all our public squares.

I'm inviting them out to our airports. Let us gather in our squares, at our airports as the people and let that minority group come ... with their tanks and artillery and do whatever they wish to do," Mr Erdogan said.

"I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people," he added.

He said the military action was by a "parallel structure" that would bring the necessary response.

He has used this term in the past to refer to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric he accuses of fomenting unrest.

However, sources close to Fetullah Gulen denied any part in the coup.

Soldiers blocked entry to Ataturk Airport, where four tanks were stationed, according to the private Dogan news agency.

Two other tanks and a military vehicle were stationed in front of the VIP terminal. The report said the soldiers had entered the tower and stopped all flights.

A Turkish official who did not want to be named said soldiers had been deployed in other cities in Turkey, but did not specify which ones.

Dogan News Agency reported the national police directorate had summoned all police to duty in Ankara.

Media reports said ambulances were seen in front of Turkey's military headquarters.

The military said it seized control "to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for the law and order to be reinstated".

The military statement went on to say that "all international agreements and commitments will remain. We pledge that good relations with all world countries will continue".

However, CNN-Turk has quoted Defence Minister Fikri Isik as describing it as a "pirate statement."

The White House says US President Barack Obama has been briefed on developments Turkey, which is a key Nato ally.

of the chain of military command. Our people should know that we will not allow any activity that would harm democracy."

Military jets were heard flying over Ankara and Istanbul. Gunfire was heard outside Turkey's military headquarters in Ankara, while media reports said ambulances were seen in front of it.

The Dogan news agency said traffic on the Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges was blocked. Video footage showed the bridge being blocked by military vehicles.

Martial law has been imposed across Turkey and a curfew declared as the country was now being run by a "peace council" that would not allow public order to be damaged, an announcer on Turkish state broadcaster TRT said, reading a statement on the orders of the military.

The announcer said the democratic and secular rule of law had been eroded by the current government and that a new constitution would be prepared soon.

Freedom of citizens was guaranteed by the "peace council", regardless of religion, race or language, the announcer said.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the chief of Turkey's military staff was among people taken "hostage" in the capital Ankara. CNN Turk also reported that hostages were being held at the military headquarters.

Irish Independent

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