Friday, July 15, 2016

Military Attempts Coup in Turkey, Prime Minister Says
New York Times
JULY 15, 2016

ISTANBUL — The prime minister of Turkey said on Friday night that factions of the military had attempted a coup. There were sharply conflicting statements about who was in control of the country, a NATO member and important United States ally, which has been convulsed by military takeovers at least three times over the past half-century.

“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in comments broadcast on NTV, a private television channel. “The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”

Shortly after Mr. Yildirim spoke, the Turkish military issued a statement, according to the news agency DHA, claiming it had taken control of the country.

“Turkish armed forces seized the rule of the country completely with the aim of reinstalling the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to make rule of law pervade again, to re-establish the ruined public order,” the statement quoted by DHA said. “All the international agreements and promises are valid. We hope our good relations with all global countries goes on.”

The state-run Anadolu News Agency said hostages had been taken at military headquarters in Ankara, the capital, including the chief of staff.

Military forces shut two bridges over the Bosporus in Istanbul, and fighter jets were seen flying over Istanbul and Ankara. The main airport in Istanbul was reported to have halted flights.

The whereabouts of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist politician who has dominated politics in Turkey for many years and sought to establish a firm control over the military, was not immediately clear. He was not in the capital but there were conflicting accounts about whether he was in the country.

Ilnur Cevik, an aide to Mr. Erdogan, reached by telephone Friday night, said he would not discuss the president’s location because “these lines are being listened to.”

Mr. Cevik said he heard reports that clashes were underway in Ankara near headquarters of Turkey’s intelligence agency. “We’re not really sure what’s going on but there seems to be an uprising in the military.”

He added, “is it anywhere near being successful? I don’t think so. Right now, there is a lot of confusion.”

Speaking to local television, Mr. Yildirim said, “illegal acts of some people from among the military are the issue here. My citizens and my nation should know that any act that would harm democracy would not be allowed.”

He continued, “the government that the citizens of the Turkish Republic elected, representing the will of the people, is in charge and the removal of it happens only by the decision of the people. Those who did this attempt, who took part in this insanity, in this unlawful act, will pay the heaviest price. I want my citizens to know that we will not be deterred by those kinds of attempts.”

The dramatic events began unfolding late Friday, roughly around 10 p.m., as the military moved to stop traffic over two of Istanbul’s bridges, which cross the Bosporus and connect the European and Asian sides of the city. In the back streets of Beyoglu, in the European districts, bars and restaurants were showing footage on television of scenes at the bridge, while partygoers were glued to their mobile phones trying to learn what was happening.

Since the founding of modern Turkey in 1923 the military has staged coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980 – and intervened in 1997.

The military had long seen itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular system, established by the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. But in recent years a series of sensational trials had pushed the military back to its barracks, which analysts said had secured civilian leadership over the military.

Across Istanbul on Friday night rumors swirled and evening plans were upended. In the city’s Arnavutkoy neighborhood, people flooded out of bars and restaurants and began hailing taxis and urging loved ones to get home to safety.

“There’s a coup,” one man shouted in the street. “There’s a coup, and blood will be shed.”

Mr. Erdogan, in power more than a decade, attracted a wide-ranging constituency in the early years of his tenure, including many liberals who supported his plans to reform the economy and remove the military from politics. But in recent years he has alienated many Turks with his increasingly autocratic ways, cracking down on freedom of expression, imposing a significant role for religion in public life, and renewing war with Kurdish militants in the country’s southeast.

Many secular Turks, no doubt, will welcome the military’s intervention, even as it was far from clear by early Saturday morning if it would be successful.

“The people tried to stand up against President Erdogan, but they couldn’t, they were crushed, so the military had no choice but to take over,” said Cem Yildiz, a taxi driver who said on Friday night that he would spend the rest of the night car-pooling to make sure people got home safely.

Mr. Yildiz said that recent terrorism in the country attributed to the militants of the Islamic State, including a recent attack on Istanbul’s main airport that killed dozens, was, “the tipping point,” for him.

Like many Turks, he has blamed Turkey’s policy on Syria for the terror attacks. Early in the civil war there, Turkey supported rebel groups fighting against the Syrian government. Many of the fighters who traveled through Turkey to Syria joined the Islamic State, and critics have blamed Mr. Erdogan for enabling the group’s rise.

“He has destroyed this country and no one will stand up to him but the military,” he said. “There was no choice but this.”

Seyda Yilmaz, a teacher who was out in Istanbul on Friday when the news broke, said, “the country is in chaos and Erdogan needs to be put in his place, but I’m afraid. I’m very afraid, because in the past a lot of innocent blood was shed in these coups. I’m anxious. I don’t know what to say at this point. We are all in shock. No one thought that the military would stand up against Erdogan.”

Safak Timur contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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