Saturday, July 16, 2016

Erdogan Forces Rounding Up Rebels as Coup Fails; Almost 200 Dead
July 16, 2016 — 8:12 AM EDT

President calls coup attempt treason; police capture 50 rebels
U.S.-based preacher Gulen blamed for seeking overthrow

Turkish authorities began rounding up military officers after a failed overnight coup to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that saw tanks blockading roads, soldiers fighting police and warplanes bombing the parliament in Ankara.

Promising swift retribution, Erdogan, who arrived at Istanbul’s international airport at about 6:30 a.m. local time from the Aegean coastal resort of Marmaris, blamed followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a one-time ally-turned nemesis. “They will pay a heavy price for their treason,” he said. A group backed by Gulen condemned the coup attempt in a statement.

Generals were among more than 2,800 military personnel arrested during raids on Saturday, after clashes that left almost 200 dead, including several dozen coup plotters. Streets in the capital Ankara and Istanbul, the biggest city, were virtually deserted, with most shops shuttered. Most international flights were canceled.

The plot will likely give Erdogan, who served as prime minister for more than a decade and is the most influential figure in Turkish politics since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, more ammunition to crack down on opponents as he seeks to transform a largely ceremonial presidential post into the center of power. That quest has brought charges of growing authoritarianism and intolerance.

“Through putting down this coup, Erdogan’s grip on power will be further enhanced,” says Timothy Ash, a London-based strategist at Nomura International Plc. “He has yet again proven his invincibility.”

Multiple Conflicts

Yet even as Erdogan appears confident of quashing the bloodiest effort to end his rule, the attempted coup risks fueling more instability in a country already entangled in the war in neighboring Syria as well as a conflict with Kurdish separatists at home.

As tanks rolled through the streets of the capital as well as in Istanbul, Turkey’s lira plunged as much as 6 percent against the dollar, the most since 2010.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim branded Gulen a “gang leader” during a press conference in Ankara, while deputy premier Nurettin Canikli said the government would ramp up its purge of Gulenists within government positions.

“The process of clearing parallel treacherous organizations from the state will be finalized in a more rapid and efficient way,” he told the pro-government A Haber TV. “Even if they went into the tiniest veins of the state, they will be purged.”

Graft Probe

In December 2013, Erdogan accused Gulen of being behind a corruption probe that threatened his government, and authorities subsequently removed thousands of police and judiciary officials. The two once collaborated to defang a common enemy: the secularist army that had managed to keep Islamists from power since Ataturk founded modern Turkey almost a century ago. Gulen, now in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, built a global empire to promote Turkey as a world power and, in many places, became the country’s face abroad. Now Erdogan is mobilizing the resources of the Turkish state to dismantle that message and replace it with his brand of political Islam.

Since 1960, Turkey has experienced at least three army-led takeovers. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party government, which came to power in 2002, made it a priority to curb the military’s political influence. The coup leaders said in a statement that the president and the ruling party had violated the law by undermining democracy and the country’s secular system.

Public Protest

Shortly after news of the attempted takeover, a defiant Erdogan urged the public to take to the streets and public squares in resistance. Mosques echoed Erdogan’s call from their minarets, and local television showed anti-coup crowds gathering in Istanbul, the largest city, and Ankara. Hours later, Erdogan’s office said protesters should stay put to defend the government.

The military’s top commanders and Turkey’s main opposition parties were united in rejecting the coup and Turkey’s NATO allies declared their support for the elected government.

As dawn broke, about 50 rebel soldiers who had been blocking a bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul were shown on television leaving their tanks and armored carriers with hands raised. Greek police said they had arrested eight people after a Turkish army helicopter landed in northern Greece.

The army faction behind the rebellion briefly took over state-run TV to broadcast a declaration of martial law, saying the government had lost its legitimacy. The network appeared to have been restored to government control. But CNN-Turk, an affiliate of the U.S. news channel, said soldiers entered its headquarters in Istanbul.

The Obama administration has “absolute support” for the elected government of Turkey, its NATO ally, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an e-mailed statement. He said he’d spoken this evening with his Turkish counterpart to pledge his backing. President Barack Obama told Kerry that “all parties” in Turkey should support the government, the White House said.

Turkey’s main opposition parties condemned the coup attempt. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the secular Republican People’s Party, said his group is “bound to the free will of our citizens, the cornerstone of parliamentary democracy.”

Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has been drawn deeper into some of the region’s most intractable conflicts, especially in neighboring Syria. Islamic State militants based there have attacked Turkish cities and border posts, killing scores. A decades-old conflict with separatist Kurdish rebels has also been reignited.

‘Discontent With Erdogan’

“The coup attempt is driven by multiple factors but mainly discontent with Erdogan himself, including his failure to protect the Turkish state from ISIS and failed Syrian policy,” said Theodore Karasik, a Middle East analyst at Gulf State Analytics in Washington. “Leading figures felt that their own positions in the military were in jeopardy.”

The economy has been stretched by the arrival of nearly 3 million refugees fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria, as well as a recently resolved diplomatic scrap with Russia after Turkish planes shot down a Russian jet they said had entered the nation’s airspace.

Last night’s move by parts of the military represents bad news for investors however it turns out, said Emad Mostaque, a London-based strategist at emerging-markets consultancy Ecstrat Ltd.

A failed takeover “would see all resistance to the AKP stamped out,” while a successful one would risk civil strife given the governing party has “hundreds of thousands of vehement supporters,” he said in an e-mail.

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