Turkey foils bloody coup attempt, closes in on remnants of renegade forces – Washington Post

Turkey’s government appears to have defeated a coup attempt by a renegade faction of the military, restoring control on Saturday to the major cities after a night of chaos and clashes that has plunged the already troubled country into uncertainty.

More than 100 coup plotters are now dead, acting military chief Gen. Umit Dundar said, while another 90 people — including 47 civilians — were killed and 1,154 wounded as ordinary Turks poured into the streets to confront tanks amid pitched battles in the main cities.

By morning, government forces had closed in on the army headquarters in Ankara, the final stronghold of coup plotters, said a senior Turkish official who added that 1,563 members of the military have been arrested so far.

In Istanbul, the streets were largely empty after a night of gunfire, explosions and violent confrontations on the bridges and in the city’s main squares.

The unrest raised fears that Turkey, a close U.S. ally, especially in the fight against the Islamic State, could be destined for a prolonged period of civil strife that would reverberate across an already bloodstained and chaotic region.

Just after dawn and hours of overnight clashes, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared at the Istanbul airport and greeted a huge crowd of flag-waving supporters.

“This government, brought to power by the people, is in charge,” he said.

“Turkey is proud of you,” roared back the crowd.

“A minority group within the armed forces targeted the integrity of our country,” Erdogan told reporters at the news conference broadcast live on state television. “This latest action is an action of treason, and they will have to pay heavily for that.”

Hours earlier, branches of the police and army had fought for control of major government buildings in the capital, Ankara, as protesters swarmed onto the streets to confront the tanks rumbling into their cities.

Helicopters flown by coup supporters fired on buildings and into the crowds gathering to challenge the attempt to overthrow Turkey’s government, in the most significant challenge to the country’s stability in decades.

Gruesome video footage posted on social media showed tanks crushing protesters who tried to block their path, bloodied bodies strewn on the streets of Ankara and helicopters firing into civilian crowds, raising fears that the toll could be higher.

Rebel officers fired on both the presidential palace and parliament, officials said, causing significant damage to the building that hosts the country’s National Assembly. Coup supporters set fire to intelligence headquarters in Ankara, and also seized part of the country’s military headquarters.

By the early hours of Saturday morning, Turkish officials said the government had managed to claw back control from the coup plotters, whose identity and profile remained unclear.

The Interior Ministry reported that five generals and 29 colonels had been removed from their posts.

The army chief of staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, was rescued from an air base in Ankara where he had been held hostage since the start of the coup, reported Anadolu Saturday morning.

Gen. Dundar was appointed acting military chief overnight, and on Saturday said that Turkey had “displayed a historic cooperation between the government and the people.”

“The nation will never forget this betrayal,” he said.

A Turkish warplane shot down a helicopter carrying some of the coup leaders, the officials also said, and the state broadcaster, which had been silent for several hours after it was overrun by soldiers, was back on the air by morning.

Istanbul Ataturk Airport reopened after being closed for hours and the national airline had resumed flights.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued orders early Saturday to the military aircraft pilots still loyal to the government to take to the skies to shoot down any remaining planes flying on behalf of the coup plotters, who appeared to include a sizable proportion of the air force.

War planes swooped over central Istanbul in the early morning hours Saturday, setting off sonic booms and shattering glass as police and soldiers clashed in the city’s famed Taksim Square.

“The situation is largely in control,” Yildirim told Turkey’s NTV television channel. “All commanders are in charge. The people have taken steps to address this threat.”

But with reports that gunfire and explosions were still being heard on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara well into the morning, it was far from clear whether the worst crisis in Turkey in decades had been resolved.

The splits within the security forces and the chaotic scenes on the streets revealed a society polarized between supporters and opponents of the deeply controversial Erdogan, whose autocratic behavior has alienated some segments of Turkish society but who remains hugely popular among his core constituents.

With the main opposition parties making statements condemning the coup attempt, and most of the important branches of the military and security services rallying to the government’s side, it did not appear that the renegades had widespread support.

The upheaval began Friday evening when tanks and other armored vehicles appeared on bridges across the Bosporous in Istanbul and F-16 fighter jets began streaking through the skies.

Shortly afterward, an anchor with the state television broadcaster read a statement purportedly from the Turkish military saying it had taken control of the country, citing concerns about the increasingly autocratic behavior of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party.

“The Turkish Armed Forces, in accordance with the constitution, have seized management of the country to reinstate democracy, human rights, and freedom, and to ensure public order, which has deteriorated,” the statement said.

Erdogan, whose party won a comfortable majority in elections last year, then appealed to his supporters to take to the streets to protest the coup. He spoke to the nation using the FaceTime app on the phone of a Turkish TV anchor.

Many thousands responded, with protesters gathering in venues including Istanbul’s central Taksim Square and outside Erdogan’s palace in Ankara. Mobile phone videos uploaded to social-media sites showed scenes in which people scrambled over tanks to try to block their path and soldiers opening fire on some of the crowds.

Turkish officials blamed the coup attempt on a small group of disgruntled military officers loyal to the movement of a U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who maintains a network of adherents across Turkey and has long challenged Erdogan’s hold on power. The officers were destined to lose their jobs in August during a military reshuffle, said the Turkish official.

The Gulenist movement denied involvement, however, and amid the confusion, it was impossible to confirm who was behind the attempt to topple the government.

Erdogan has made many enemies in the 13 years he has run Turkey, first as prime minister and then, since 2014, as president, including within the military. Hundreds of officers have been imprisoned by his government, some of them accused of coup-plotting, and it had been widely thought that his crackdown on dissent had dispelled the risk of coups in the once coup-prone country.

These latest coup plotters included members of the air force and gendarmerie, inluding 13 officers who tried to force their way into the presidential palace, according to the Turkish official.

Sly reported from Irbil, Iraq. Ishaan Tharoor in Washington, Carol Morello in Moscow and Menekse Tokyay in Ankara contributed to this report.

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