Wednesday 21 February 2018

Fears Erdogan using coup to consolidate his power amid ruthless crackdown

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacts after attending the funeral of a victim of the coup attempt in Istanbul. Photo: Getty
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacts after attending the funeral of a victim of the coup attempt in Istanbul. Photo: Getty

Zia Weise and Dominique Soguel

Turkey intensified its ruthless crackdown yesterday in the wake of Friday night's failed coup, detaining 6,000 people as world leaders and opposition politicians raised concerns that Recep Tayyip Erdogan would use the coup as a pretext to consolidate his power.

The Turkish president's military aide, Colonel Ali Yazici, was among those who were arrested on suspicion of plotting against the government on behalf of Mr Erdogan's arch-rival, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Speaking at a funeral in Istanbul, Mr Erdogan vowed to "cleanse" Turkey's state institutions of their "virus" - meaning Mr Gulen's supporters - raising the spectre of a wide-ranging clampdown in the days to come.

"Since yesterday, the judiciary has been cleansed of these elements, they were put in custody, dismissed and imprisoned. This was necessary, but that is not enough," Mr Erdogan said.

On Saturday, the government launched a sweeping purge targeting Turkey's judiciary, suspending more than 2,500 judges and arresting two Supreme Court judges.

Read More: A rushed coup put down - and Erdogan's near miss in the skies

"I wish we'd learn our lesson from this and strengthen our democracy. Unfortunately, judging from what happened these past two days, the opposite appears to be the case," said Aylan Bilgen, an MP for HDP, the pro-Kurdish opposition party.

After a strong show of unity in support of the government, world leaders began to express fears of the strengthening of Mr Erdogan's hand.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, warned Mr Erdogan not to use the failed coup as a "blank cheque" to crush dissent, a remark echoed by the Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, who said the Turkish president should not "misuse" the events as "a carte blanche to do whatever he wants".

Barack Obama, the US President, urged the government to respect the rule of law, as John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, rebuffed Ankara's request for Mr Gulen's immediate extradition, saying Turkey would need to provide proof of the cleric's involvement in the coup.

Mr Ayrault added that the attempted coup had raised doubts about the "reliability" of Turkey in the fight against Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (Isil), though the Pentagon announced that Turkey would reopen its Incirlik air base, used by the US-led coalition for raids on Isil, after closing its airspace to military planes on Saturday.

The base's commander, General Bekir Ercan Van, was detained on suspicion of taking part in the coup.

Mr Erdogan also gave signals that Turkey might reinstate capital punishment in the wake of the failed coup attempt.

Mr Erdogan spoke to his supporters in front of his Istanbul residence yesterday and his speech was punctuated by frequent calls of "we want the death penalty" from the large crowd, to which he responded: "We hear your request. In a democracy, whatever the people want they will get."

Adding that they will be in contact with Turkey's opposition parties to reach a position of capital punishment, he said: "We will not delay this decision for long. Because those who attempt a coup in this country must pay."

Turkey has not executed ­anyone since 1984 and ­capital punishment was legally ­abolished in 2004 as part of its bid to join the European Union.

Clashes broke out yesterday between security forces and putschists at a Turkish air base in the central city of Konya, a Turkish official said. He also confirmed an incident at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport, where police fired warning shots at rebels who were resisting arrest. They eventually surrendered.

In Ankara, Turkey's parliament stands empty. Security forces have locked down the building after it was bombed several times in the early hours of Saturday as rogue F-16s roared over the capital.

In a rare show of unity, Turkey's four parties in parliament released a joint statement condemning the plotters. But opposition parties feel uneasy with Mr Erdogan's response to the attempted coup and his continued calls for his supporters to take to the streets. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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