Thousands Arrested as Attempted Coup in Turkey Reportedly Fails
World leaders offer solidarity with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, but urge a cautious response
Thousands of people were arrested and at least 161 killed overnight in Turkey as an attempted military coup came to a chaotic end.
The death toll has been estimated to be as high as 194. A reported 2,389 military officials, including high-ranking officers, were taken into custody after clashing with citizens who had heeded Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan's call to "stand up" against those he called coup plotters, the BBC reports.
The Judges and Prosecutors High Council also reportedly dismissed 2,745 judges across the country.
The night of conflict began when army tanks began rolling through Istanbul on Friday night, blocking bridges connecting the country's European and Asian sides. Restaurants and shops shut down as people fled in panic. In the capital city of Ankara, gunshots were reportedly heard as military planes flew low to the ground and tanks opened fire on the parliamentary building.
Erdoğan urged citizens to rise up against the soldiers, which they did. Some clashes ended in mass surrenders, with soldiers raising their hands and leaving their tanks behind on Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge as citizens amassed against them. A helicopter with eight of the alleged plotters flew to Alexandroupolis, Greece to seek asylum, although the Greek government said it would return both the aircraft and the personnel on board as soon as possible.
The coup was launched to oust Erdoğan from power over charges that he was "undermining the country's secular traditions," according to the Guardian, which is providing live updates here.
The Guardian reports:
Erdoğan, who returned to Istanbul in the early hours of the morning from his holiday in the resort of Marmaris, said the attempted coup was "treason" undertaken by "a minority within our armed forces."
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday that legal changes would be considered to reintroduce the death penalty to deal with coup-plotters. He called the plot "a black stain" on Turkish democracy.
Erdoğan has said the plotters would pay a "heavy price" and blamed the coup on the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Gülen released a statement that condemned the act and "categorically" denied any involvement.
Around Europe, leaders expressed solidarity with Turkey but cautioned that they would not comply with an aggressive response from Erdoğan.
"The EU fully supports the democratically elected government, the institutions of the country and the rule of law," said European Council chief Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini, during a press conference Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where EU and Asian leaders were holding a summit.
Tusk added, "The key question will be what kind of Turkey comes out from this crisis. How Turkey manages to come out of and deal with the consequences will be crucial not just for Turkey, but the whole region and EU-Turkey relations."
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French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault lauded the "maturity and courage" of the Turkish people but said he hoped that "Turkish democracy will come out stronger from this test and that the fundamental liberties will be fully respected."
Erdoğan has faced increasing criticism for recent crackdowns on dissent. In March, Human Rights Watch condemned Erdoğan's "vicious campaign" against dissidents, which included stating he wants to expand the country's anti-extremism law to include journalists, politicians, and academics.
The Guardian's foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall adds context for the words of cautious alliance from other leaders:
Since becoming prime minister and now president, Erdoğan has frequently claimed to be the target and victim of murky conspiracies designed to depose him and destroy his neo-Islamist ruling party, the Justice and Development party (AKP).
[....] Previous army purges during Erdoğan’s tenure led to mass trials and jailings of army officers accused of disloyalty and plotting. Now, given the bloodshed and violence on Friday night that seems to have exceeded the infamous coup of 1980, the punishment for alleged coup leaders, real and imagined, may be harsh indeed.
However, Tisdall continues, Erdoğan would be wise to use solidarity over the uprising from the Western governments with which he often clashes "to temper and restrain his natural instinct for revenge and take the moral high ground instead. Better to appear the calm statesman uniting a shocked and wounded nation than to create even greater instability."
In fact, "if Erdogan, claiming to be the savior of democracy, further undermines and diminishes that democracy in his determination to punish the plotters, the contradiction will be only too plain. Over-reaction is now Turkey's and Erdoğan's biggest enemy," Tisdall writes.