‘Not our friends’: Erdogan slams West for ‘shameful’ attitude over Turkey coup

  • Reuters, Ankara/Istanbul
  • Updated: Jul 30, 2016 12:01 IST
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hugs a woman during an event in Ankara late Friday to honour those killed and wounded during the failed July 15 military coup. (AP)

President Tayyip Erdogan condemned Western countries on Friday for failing to show solidarity with Turkey over the recent failed coup, saying those who worried over the fate of coup supporters instead of Turkish democracy could not be friends of Ankara.

Erdogan also rejected Western criticism of purges under way in Turkey’s military and other state institutions which saw more than 60,000 people detained, removed or suspended over suspected links with the coup attempt, suggesting some in the United States were on the side of the plotters.

“The attitude of many countries and their officials over the coup attempt in Turkey is shameful in the name of democracy,” Erdogan told hundreds of supporters at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital.

“Any country and any leader who does not worry about the life of Turkish people and our democracy as much as they worry about the fate of coupists are not our friends,” said Erdogan, who narrowly escaped capture and perhaps death on the night of the coup.

Turkey’s Western allies have condemned the coup in which Erdogan said 237 people were killed and more than 2,100 were wounded, but have been rattled by the scale of the crackdown in the aftermath. Images of detained soldiers with bruises and bandages have worried civil rights groups over mistreatment.

The purges have targeted supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15-16 failed coup, but Erdogan’s critics say he is using the measures to crack down on any dissent.

Erdogan also criticised the European Council and the European Union, which Turkey aspires to be a part of, for their failure to pay a visit to offer condolences, saying their criticism was ‘shameful’.

The director of US National Intelligence, James Clapper, said on Thursday the purges were harming the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq by sweeping away Turkish officers who had worked closely with the United States.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an event in Ankara late Friday to honour those killed and wounded during the failed July 15 military coup. (AP)

The head of US Central Command, General Joseph Votel, said he believed some of the military figures whom the United States had worked with were in jail. Votel’s comments drew condemnation from Erdogan.

“Instead of thanking this country which repelled a coup attempt, you take the side of the coup plotters. The putschist is in your country already,” Erdogan said, referring to Gulen, who denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

In a statement released by the US military on Friday, General Votel said any claims that he was involved in a failed coup attempt in Turkey were “unfortunate and completely inaccurate”.

White House spokesperson Eric Schultz has also dismissed claims that Votel supported the coup plotters, and referred to US President Barack Obama’s comments from last week saying any reports that Washington had prior knowledge of the attempted overthrow were completely false.

Erdogan has blamed Gulen for masterminding the attempted coup and has called on Washington to extradite him. Turkish officials have suggested the US can extradite him based on strong suspicion while President Obama last week insisted Turkey must first present evidence of Gulen’s alleged complicity in the failed coup.

Military shake-up

Late on Thursday Turkey announced a shake-up of its armed forces, NATO’s second largest, with the promotion of 99 colonels to the rank of general or admiral and the dishonourable discharge of nearly 1,700 military personnel over their alleged roles in the coup.

About 40% of all generals and admirals in the military have been dismissed since the coup.

Turkish defence minister Fikri Isik told broadcaster NTV on Friday that the shake-up in the military was not yet over, adding that military academies would now be a target of “cleansing”.

The purges have also hit government ministries, schools and universities, the police, civil service, media and business.

Seventeen journalists were formally arrested late on Friday over their alleged links with the coup plot while four others were released. Arrest warrants for dozens of others were issued earlier this week.

The number of public sector workers removed from their posts since the coup attempt now stands at more than 66,000, including some 43,000 people in education, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.

Interior minister Efkan Ala said more than 18,000 people had been detained over the failed coup, and that 50,000 passports had been cancelled. The labour ministry said it was investigating 1,300 staff over their possible involvement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan standing in front of guards during his visit to the Police Special Operation department's headquarters in Golbasi district of Ankara. (AFP)

Erdogan has claimed that Gulen harnessed his extensive network of schools, charities and businesses, built up in Turkey and abroad over decades, to create a secretive “parallel state” that aimed to take over the country.

Erdogan’s critics say he is using the purges to crack down indiscriminately on dissent and to tighten his grip on power.

With long land borders with Syria and Iraq, Turkey is a central part of the US-led military operation against Islamic State. As home to millions of Syrian refugees, it is also the European Union’s partner in a deal reached last year to halt the biggest flow of migrants into Europe since World War Two.

Turkey hosts US troops and warplanes at Incirlik Air Base, from which the United States flies sorties against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Those air operations were temporarily halted following the coup attempt.

Attempting to reassure the United States, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday that Turkey’s armed forces, “cleansed” of their Gulenist elements, would prove more “trustworthy ... and effective” allies against Islamic State.

Nevertheless, there is a growing anti-US mood in Turkey which is likely to harden further if Washington refuses to extradite Gulen.

Several hundred flag-waving protesters staged a peaceful protest march near the Incirlik base on Thursday, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and “Damn the USA”, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper reported. The protesters burned a US flag.

US based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, US. (Reuters file photo)

“Power poisoning”

The crackdown on Gulenists pressed on unabated on Friday.

In the central city of Kayseri, a stronghold of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, police detained the chairman of furniture-to-cables conglomerate Boydak Holding and two company executives as part of the investigation into the “Gulenist Terror Group”, Anadolu reported.

Prosecutors in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir issued orders to detain 200 police on Friday as part of the investigation targeting Gulenists, the Dogan news agency said.

In the Netherlands, a spokeswoman for the Gulenist community said supporters feared for their safety after dozens of death threats and acts of arson and vandalism in Dutch towns and cities in the past two weeks. Saniye Calkin said supporters in neighbouring Germany were reporting similar incidents.

Germany is home to Europe’s largest Turkish diaspora, while the Netherlands also has around half a million ethnic Turks.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999, again maintained his innocence during an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, saying he had himself suffered from previous coups in Turkey.

Asked why his once-warm ties with Erdogan and the AK Party had turned sour, Gulen said: “It appears that after staying in power for too long, (they) are suffering from power poisoning.”

Gulen, whose Hizmet (Service) movement stresses the need to embrace scientific progress and inter-faith dialogue, said he still strongly backed Ankara’s bid to join the EU, saying this would buttress democracy and human rights in Turkey.

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