Turkish lawmakers to give Erdogan sweeping new powers

Suzan Fraser and Sarah el Deeb
Associated Press

Ankara, Turkey — Turkish lawmakers convened Thursday to endorse sweeping new powers for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that would allow him to expand a crackdown in the wake of last week’s failed coup.

The 550-member parliament is set to approve Erdogan’s request for a three-month state of emergency. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party account for 317 members in the chamber.

In an address to the nation late Wednesday, Erdogan announced a Cabinet decision to seek the additional powers, saying the state of emergency would give the government the tools to rid the military of the “virus” of subversion.

The measure would give Erdogan the authority to extend detention times for suspects and issue decrees that have the force of law without parliamentary approval, among other powers.

Even without the emergency measures, the government has already imposed a crackdown that has included mass arrests and closing hundreds of schools. Nearly 10,000 people have been arrested and over 58,880 civil service employees including teachers, university deans and police have been dismissed, suspended, forced to resign or had their licenses revoked.

Turkish state media said Thursday that a further 32 judges and two military officers had been detained by authorities,

Although the state of emergency measure seemed certain to pass, it was slammed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, as going too far.

CHP lawmaker Ozgur Ozel said the decision would amount to a “civilian coup” against Parliament and was a display of “ingratitude” to all the legislators who had gathered in the assembly to oppose the coup attempt.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek defended the move, saying he hoped the state of emergency would be short-lived. He said it would be used to go after “rogue” elements within the state and that there could have been “carnage in the streets” had the military coup succeeded.

“We owe it to our people to go after them,” he said. “We will have a legal framework for it.”

Simsek said that “standards of the European Court of Human Rights will be upheld,” but didn’t elaborate.

“There will be no curfews. There will be no restriction of movement other than for the suspects,” Simsek said.

Under the Turkish Constitution, the emergency measures allow the government to “partially or entirely” suspend “the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms,” so long as that doesn’t violate international law obligations. Lawmakers can sanction a state of emergency for a period of up to six months.

Before the vote Thursday, another deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said once the emergency measures are invoked, the country would suspend its participation in the European Convention of Human Rights, an international treaty meant to protect human rights and freedoms. He said the move was justified under a convention article allowing for such a suspension in times of emergency.

A state of emergency has never been declared nationwide although it was declared in Turkey’s restive, Kurdish-dominated southeast between 1987 and 2002. There, governors imposed curfews, called in military forces to suppress demonstrations and issued search warrants. Martial law was imposed across the country for three years following a successful military coup in 1980.

In other coup-related news, a soldier allegedly linked to the attack on a hotel where Erdogan had been vacationing during the foiled coup was arrested in southwestern Turkey, the state agency Anadolu reported Thursday. The lieutenant was one of about 30 soldiers who government officials have said were involved in the attack on the hotel in the resort of Marmais.

The attackers arrived minutes after Erdogan had left the hotel, according to official reports. Earlier this week, officials said at least four suspects linked to the hotel attack remain on the run.

In Greece, a court sentenced eight Turkish military personnel who fled there aboard a helicopter during the coup attempt to two months in prison for entering the country illegally.

Turkey has demanded their return to stand trial for alleged participation in the coup attempt. The eight, who deny involvement, have applied for asylum in Greece, saying they fear for their safety if they are returned.

Countries around the world are keeping a close watch on developments in Turkey, which straddles Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday that the expected state of emergency should only last as long as it’s “absolutely necessary.”

Steinmeier said it’s important that “the rule of law, a sense of proportion and commensurability are preserved” and that it’s in Turkey’s interest to “keep the state of emergency only for the duration that is absolutely necessary and then immediately end it.”

Erdogan, who had been accused of autocratic conduct even before this week’s crackdown on alleged opponents, said the state of emergency would counter threats to Turkish democracy.

“This measure is in no way against democracy, the law and freedoms,” Erdogan said Wednesday after a meeting with Cabinet ministers and security advisers.