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60 KILLED IN COUP BID

Turkish soldiers stand guard at the Taksim Square
in Istanbul on July 16. Photo: EPA

Army seizes power in Turkey, Erdogan says in command

ISTANBUL/ANKARA, July 16, 2016

Turkey's military said on Friday it had seized power but President Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the attempted coup would be put down.

At least 60 people were killed after a faction of the armed forces attempted to seize power, officials said.

A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would have marked 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. A failed coup attempt could still destabilise a pivotal country.

Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and was shown on TV among a crowd of supporters outside Ataturk Airport.

The uprising was an "act of treason", and those responsible would pay a heavy price, he told reporters at a hastily arranged news conference. Arrests of officers were under way and it would go higher up the ranks, culminating in the cleansing of the military, he said.

Addressing a crowd of thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport later, Erdogan said the government remained at the helm, although disturbances continued in Ankara.

However, in an emailed statement from the Turkish military General Staff's media office address, the pro-coup faction said it was determinedly still fighting.

Calling itself the Peace at Home Movement, the faction also called on people to stay indoors for their own safety.

Rebel soldiers who had taken control of military aircraft were still firing from the air and fighter jets had been scrambled to intercept them, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, underscoring the ongoing uncertainty.

Gunfire and explosions had rocked both Istanbul and Ankara in a chaotic night after soldiers took up positions in both cities and ordered state television to read out a statement declaring they had taken power.

Around 50 soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on one of the bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul after dawn on Saturday, abandoning their tanks with their hands raised in the air. Reuters witnesses saw government supporters attack the pro-coup soldiers who had surrendered.

Earlier, around 30 pro-coup soldiers had surrendered their weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul's central Taksim square.

They were taken away in police vans as a fighter jet repeatedly screeched overhead at low altitude, causing a boom that shook surrounding buildings and shattered windows.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other senior officials said the elected government remained in office. Yildirim called the coup attempt a terrorist act by gangs and illegal formations.

Television images showed scores of people, some waving Turkish flags, gathered in major squares in main city Istanbul and capital Ankara to show support for the elected government. Gunfire broke out in both cities.

Warplanes and helicopters roared over Ankara and explosions could be heard there. Reuters reporters saw a helicopter open fire. State-run news agency Anadolu said military helicopters had fired on the headquarters of the intelligence agency.

Reuters journalists saw tanks open fire near the parliament building in Ankara, which they had surrounded.

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 red, white and blue in solidarity with victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in France a day earlier.

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.

TRT later went off the air.

Anadolu 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.

NOT A TINPOT COUP

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

"Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing. It's not just a few colonels," the source repeated.

One European diplomat was dining with the Turkish ambassador to a European capital when guests were interrupted by the pinging of urgent news on their mobile phones.

"This is clearly not some tinpot little coup. The Turkish ambassador was clearly shocked and is taking it very seriously," the diplomat told Reuters as the dinner party broke up. "However it looks in the morning, this will have massive implications for Turkey. This has not come out of nowhere."

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking jointly after talks in Moscow, both said they hoped bloodshed would be avoided. The U.S. State Department said Americans in Turkey should shelter indoors. Other countries issued similar advice.

Turkey, a NATO member with the second biggest military in the Western alliance, is one of the most important allies of the United States in the fight against Islamic State, which seized swathes of neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

Turkey is one of the main backers of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war, host to 2.7 million Syrian refugees and launchpad last year for the biggest influx of migrants to Europe since World War Two.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in Syria's capital Damascus as reports emerged that Erdogan had been toppled. People took the streets to celebrate there and in other government-held cities.

Turkey has been at war with Kurdish separatists, and has suffered numerous bombing and shooting attacks this year, including an attack two weeks ago by Islamists at Istanbul's main airport that killed more than 40 people.

In an earlier statement sent by email and reported on TV channels, the military said it had taken power to protect the democratic order and to maintain human rights. All of Turkey's existing foreign relations would be maintained and the rule of law would remain the priority, it said.

After serving as prime minister from 2003, Erdogan was elected president in 2014 with plans to alter the constitution to give the previously ceremonial presidency far greater executive powers.

Turkey has enjoyed an economic boom during his time in office and has dramatically expanded its influence across the region. But opponents say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

His AK Party, with roots in Islamism, has long had a strained relationship with the military and nationalists in a state that was founded on secularist principles after World War One. The military has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism, but has not seized power directly since 1980.

Prime Minister Yildirim said a group within Turkey's military had attempted to overthrow the government and security forces have been called in to "do what is necessary".

"Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command," Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV.

"The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so." – Reuters




Tags: Turkey | army | Damascus | coup | Erdogan |

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