ISTANBUL: Turkey’s military said on Friday (Jul 15) it had seized power, but the prime minister said the attempted coup would be put down.
Soldiers were seen on the streets in Istanbul and Ankara as jets flew low overhead, while ordinary citizens rushed for the safety of their homes after witnessing the coup attempt.
If successful, the overthrow of President Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would amount to one of the biggest shifts in power in the Middle East in years.
“We will overcome this,” Erdogan said, speaking by mobile phone to the Turkish sister station of CNN. “I certainly believe that coup plotters will not succeed. I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people.”
Erdogan said he was still president and Turkey’s commander in chief, promising that plotters would pay a “very heavy price.”
An official said Erdogan was speaking from Marmaris on the Turkish coast where he was on holiday. Erdogan said he would swiftly return to Ankara.
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, someving 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.
Supporters of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protest in front of soldiers in Istanbul’s Taksim square on Jul 16, 2016 (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)
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.
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a military helicopter being used by a military faction attempting the coup over the capital Ankara early on Saturday, broadcaster NTV said.
Anadolu meanwhile said 17 police officers had been killed in an attack on their offices in the city.
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.
Turkey’s top general Hulusi Akar was taken hostage at the military headquarters in the capital Ankara after the attempt to bring down the government, Anadolu reported.
State broadcaster TRT, which later went off the air, said the military had declared martial law and a curfew, in a statement signed by a group calling itself the “Council for Peace in the Homeland”.
“The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,” said a military statement quoted by Turkish media.
It said the move had been made “in order to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms and let the supremacy law in the country prevail, to restore order which was disrupted.”
“All our international agreements and commitments retain their validity. We hope our good relations will continue with all countries in the world.”
The country would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.
Turkish security officers detain Turkish police officers (in black). (Photo: AFP/Bulent Kilic)
Yildirim denounced what he said was an “illegal attempt” by elements in the military, and said security forces have been called in to “do what is necessary”.
“We are working on the possibility of an attempt. We will not allow this attempt,” Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV.
“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command. The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”
“Those who are in this illegal act will pay the highest price,” he added, saying it would not be correct to describe the move as a “coup”.
US President Barack Obama has been briefed, with US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price saying: “The president’s national security team has apprised him of the unfolding situation in Turkey.”
The EU called for “restraint and respect for democratic institutions” in Turkey. Neighbouring Greece said it was following the situation closely.
Turkish soldiers block Istanbul’s iconic Bosporus Bridge on Jul 15, 2016. (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)
NOT A TINPOT COUP
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.
It is a principal backer of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war, and host to 2 million Syrian refugees.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in Syria’s capital Damascus as word got out that Erdogan had been toppled, and people took the streets to celebrate there and in the government-held section of the divided city of Aleppo.
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 extremists at Istanbul’s main airport that killed more than 40 people.
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.”
Turkish military stand guard in the Taksim Square. (Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
HISTORY OF COUPS
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.
Çekilen bir videoda, insanların üzerine ateş açıldığı görülüyor. [pic.twitter.com/d7LfagPsRc](https://t.co/d7LfagPsRc)
— 140journos (@140journos) [July 15, 2016](https://twitter.com/140journos/status/754088306204225536)
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, and which has a history of military coups.
AFP correspondents said that Istanbul had been turned into a ghost town after the events, with people who had been outside for a Friday night rushing home for safety.
But some on the streets were hailing news of the coup.
“Now things are changing – Turks are on fire,” Fethi Karabas, a 27-year-old tour guide in Taksim Square, told AFP. “We have hope now,” he added. “Turkey has been in a very polarised state for almost 15 years now … This is the manifestation of all that anger.”
Rojhat Dogru, a Turkish Kurd on holiday in Istanbul, added: “I am very happy. Erdogan is a murderer but now he is dead.”
Reactions were swiftly pouring in from around the world, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling on Turkey to avoid all “bloodshed”.
“Problems in Turkey need to be resolved in accordance with the constitution,” Lavrov said, speaking in Moscow at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The US diplomat said he hoped for “peace and continuity” in Turkey, while a Greek government source said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been “briefed by the head of secret services” about the developments.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for calm in Turkey as the world body sought to clarify the situation in the country, said a UN spokesman.