Turkish F-16s patrol skies days after failed coup
Ankara, Turkey — Warplanes patrolled Turkey’s skies overnight in a sign that authorities feared that the threat against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was not yet over, despite official assurances that life has returned to normal after a failed coup.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said Erdogan ordered the overnight patrol by F-16s “for the control of the airspace and security” after a faction within the military launched the attempted coup late Friday.
The rebellion, which saw warplanes firing on key government installations and tanks rolling into major cities, was quashed by loyal government forces and masses of civilians who took to the streets. The country’s top military brass did not support the coup.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Monday that a total of 232 people — 208 government supporters he called “martyrs” and 24 coup plotters — died in the unrest. Government and military officials earlier put the total number of dead at 294, including 104 involved in the coup. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear. More than 1,500 people were wounded.
Yildirim’s voice cracked and he wept as he spoke with reporters after a cabinet meeting and repeated a question his grandson had put to him: “Why are they killing people?”
He said he had no answer, but that Turkey would make the coup plotters answer “in such a way that the whole world will see.”
He said a total of 7,543 had been detained since Friday, including 6,030 military personnel.
On Monday, Turkish prosecutors began questioning 27 generals and admirals. Anadolu reported the group includes former Air Force commander Gen. Akin Ozturk, who has been described as the ringleader of the foiled uprising. Ozturk, who remained on active duty, has denied he was involved and insisted he worked to quell the uprising in statements to Turkish media.
On Sunday, Yildirim said the coup had failed and life had returned to normal, but he and other officials also urged people to take to streets at night, saying risks remained.
At nightfall, thousands of flag-waving people rallied in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, Ankara’s Kizilay Square and elsewhere. Erdogan remained in Istanbul despite statements that he would return to the capital and address crowds in Kizilay Square. News reports said close to 2,000 special forces police officers were deployed in Istanbul to guard key installations.
The government moved swiftly in the wake of the coup to shore up its power and remove those perceived as enemies.
On Monday, security forces continued raiding military facilities in search of suspected plotters. They searched the Air Force Academy premises and residences in Istanbul, Anadolu reported. It was not clear if any arrests were made.
The crackdown targeted not only generals and soldiers, but a wide swath of the judiciary that has sometimes blocked Erdogan, raising concerns that the effort to oust him will push Turkey even further into authoritarian rule.
The failed coup and the subsequent crackdown followed moves by Erdogan to reshape both the military and the judiciary. He had indicated a shake-up of the military was imminent and had also taken steps to increase his influence over the judiciary.
It is not clear how the post-coup purge will affect the judiciary, how the government will move to replace the dismissed judges and prosecutors, or where the trials for those detained would be held.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus defended the crackdown on judiciary officials in an interview with CNN-Turk, saying many of them would have played a role had the coup attempt succeeded.
“All of these (judiciary officials) did not necessarily have first-degree knowledge about this pro-junta initiative. Had they succeeded (with the coup) it is clear that these people would have been included into this business. Therefore, anyone connected to this group will be exposed.”
The government alleged the coup conspirators were loyal to moderate U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has often accused of trying to overthrow the government.
Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, espouses a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with democracy. He is a former Erdogan ally turned bitter foe who has been put on trial in absentia in Turkey, where the government has labeled his movement a terrorist organization. He strongly denies the government’s charges.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would entertain an extradition request for Gulen, but Turkey would have to present “legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny.” So far, officials have not offered evidence he was involved.
Yildirim said those involved with the failed coup “will receive every punishment they deserve.” Erdogan suggested that Turkey might reinstate capital punishment, which was abolished in 2004 as part of the country’s bid to join the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Monday that Turkey reinstating the death penalty would mean the end of negotiations for the country to join the EU.
Even before the weekend chaos, Turkey, a NATO member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, had been wracked by political turmoil that critics blamed on Erdogan’s increasingly heavy-handed rule. He has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissent, restricted the media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels.