Turkey quashes coup; Erdogan vows ‘heavy price’

Published 6:01 pm Saturday, July 16, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey — Pouring out into the streets, forces loyal to Turkey’s president quashed a coup attempt in a night and day of explosions, air battles and gunfire. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that those responsible “will pay a heavy price for their treason” and demanded that the United States extradite the cleric he blamed for the attempted overthrow of his government.

The chaos Friday night and Saturday left about 265 people dead and over 1,400 wounded, according to authorities. After reclaiming control of the country, Turkish officials arrested or fired thousands of troops and judges they claimed were followers of the U.S.-based moderate Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

Top Turkish officials — including the president, the prime minister and the interior minister — all urged supporters to come out to city squares again Saturday night to defend the country’s democracy.

Email newsletter signup

Massive crowds did just that — singing and waving Turkish flags in Istanbul’s neighborhood of Kisikli, in Izmir’s Konak square and the northeastern city of Erzincan. A festive crowd also formed in Ankara’s Kizilay square.

The unrest came as Turkey — a NATO member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group — has already been mired in political turmoil that critics blame on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Erdogan, who stayed in power by switching from being prime minister to president, has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissidents, restricted the news media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels that has left parts of the southeast in an urban war zone.

The government is also under pressure from hosting millions of refugees who have fled the violence in neighboring Syria and Iraq, and from a series of bloody attacks blamed on Islamic State extremists and Kurdish rebels.

Erdogan was on a seaside vacation when tanks rolled into the streets of Ankara and Istanbul overnight Friday, blocking key bridges. From a cellphone, he delivered a televised address that called for huge crowds to come out and defend Turkey’s democracy — which they did in Ankara, the capital, and in Istanbul, facing off against troops who had blocked key Bosporus bridges that link the city’s Asian and European sides.

“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people. The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge. This government brought to power by the people is in charge,” he told large crowds after landing at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport early Saturday and declaring the coup a failure.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim described the night as “a black mark on Turkish democracy” and said the perpetrators “will receive every punishment they deserve.” He said July 15 will be remembered as “a festival for democracy,” the day when those who carried out a coup against the people were hit by a coup themselves.

Late Saturday, Defense Minister Fikri Isik said state authorities were in full control of all areas in Turkey but warned that authorities would remain vigilant.

The uprising appears not to have been backed by the most senior ranks of the military. Gen. Umit Dundar said the plotters were mainly officers from the Air Force, the military police and the armored units.