Erdogan purge picks up pace as EU allies urge restraint

Published July 19th, 2016 - 07:00 GMT
Turkish President Erdogan's wide spread purge has concerned Western allies. (AFP/file)
Turkish President Erdogan's wide spread purge has concerned Western allies. (AFP/file)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's retribution against this weekend's coup-plotters picked up pace Monday as his EU allies warned him not to go too far, matching talk of reintroducing the death penalty with threats to suspend the path to EU membership.

Less than two days after the attempted coup was defeated, government officials reported thousands of arrests and detentions, hollowing out parts of the armed forces and the civil service.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Monday that the most recent tally for the coup-related roundup was 7,543 arrests: 6,038 soldiers, 100 police officers, 755 judges and prosecutors and 650 civilians.

In all, more than 13,000 government workers - excluding the armed forces - have been suspended, according to Yildirim. There appeared to be some overlap between non-military suspensions and the arrests of civil servants.

All Turkish civil servants - more than 3 million people - were ordered to return to their duties as soon as possible, and all annual leave for employees was cancelled until further notice, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The question in Turkey now turned to how to punish all the alleged coup plotters, who stand accused of leading an uprising that started late Friday before being crushed by loyalists. Yildirim said Monday the death toll among loyalist forces was 60 police officers and three soldiers, on top of 145 civilians killed.

Among putsch backers, Yildirim reported 24 dead and 50 injured. That contradicted earlier Foreign Ministry figures stating more than 100 had died. Nearly 1,491 people - loyalists and civilians - were reported injured.

Erdogan said he and legislators will discuss reviving the death penalty, which has not been used in Turkey since 1984 and was abolished in 2004.

"It will take a parliamentary decision for that to take action in the form of a constitutional measure. So the leaders will have to come together, discuss it. If they accept to discuss it then as the president I will approve any decision to come out of the parliament," Erdogan told CNN from Istanbul.

In his first interview since the failed putsch, Erdogan denounced the "clear crime of treason."

He said that the Turkish people "now have the idea, after so many terrorist incidents, that these terrorists should be killed - that's where they are, they don't see any other outcome to it," he said.

"Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons, for years to come? That's what the people say. They want a swift end to it, because people lost relatives, lost neighbors, lost children."

Reinstituting capital punishment would be diplomatically troubling to many of Turkey's Western allies. The EU, which Turkey has sought to join since 1999, has no member that allows the death penalty.

Germany said that restoring the death penalty would lead to a suspension of EU membership talks.

Nonetheless Erdogan has pledged the "cleansing" of state institutions will continue, saying a cancer had spread like a "virus" and needed to be eradicated.

Authorities including prosecutors began a search Monday at Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

General Bekir Ercan Van, commander of Incirlik airbase, was arrested Sunday with 10 of his soldiers for alleged complicity.

The joint US-Turkish base, which hosts soldiers from several countries including Germany, was reportedly used during the failed coup attempt, which saw mutineers hijack fighter jets. The base is used by the United States for its air campaign against Islamic State forces.

The alleged ringleader of the coup, former air force head Akin Ozturk, has denied involvement. Ozturk's testimony to prosecutors was leaked to private media outlets, who posted it online, showing he categorically denied being part of the coup plot at any level.

Ozturk has been shown on state media in custody, badly battered and bloodied, his ear bandaged. Many of those in custody - including some of the more than 100 generals and admirals detained - have been shown with severe bruises, some stripped to their underwear.

The diplomatic fight reached the United States, home of alleged coup organizer Fethullah Gulen, once a close Erdogan ally. Turkey has demanded Gulen's extradition, despite his insistence that he had nothing to do with the coup.

The United States has said it would look at any extradition requests, but US Secretary of State John Kerry also made clear Monday that Turkey should respect the rule of law. Erdogan said a request would be made soon.

The US embassy in Ankara reacted to news reports and comments from public figures that Washington "in some way supported the coup attempt."

"This is categorically untrue, and such speculation is harmful to the decades-long friendship between two great nations," a statement from the embassy said.

Meanwhile, the US has lifted a ban on flights to and from Turkey that was put in place following the coup attempt.

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