Turkey imposes 3-month state of emergency to catch coup plotters

AFP , Thursday 21 Jul 2016

Erdogan poster
A supporter holds a banner with a photo of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, while standing on the Republic monument during a pro-government demonstration on Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 21, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Turkish authorities Thursday imposed a three-month state of emergency, strengthening powers to round up suspects accused of staging the failed military coup despite global alarm over a widening purge.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the state of emergency, the first in Turkey in one and a half decades, shortly before midnight after an almost five-hour meeting of his national security council.

The decision was then published in the official gazette Thursday morning, meaning it has now officially entered into force.

He said the nationwide measure would allow Turkey to be cleared of "terrorists" linked to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom the president accuses of masterminding the failed coup from his leafy compound in Pennsylvania.

But with concern growing over respect of the rule of law in Turkey almost a week after the coup that left over 300 dead and raised fears of chaos in the key NATO member, Erdogan insisted that democracy would not be compromised.

The state of emergency was needed "in order to remove swiftly all the elements of the terrorist organisation involved in the coup attempt," Erdogan said at the presidential palace in Ankara.

But he added: "We have never made compromises on democracy. And we will never make" them.

The state of emergency gives the government extra powers to restrict freedom of movement, said an official, adding that it would not restrict financial or commercial activities as "international law sets limits of restrictions".

Turkey in 2002 lifted its last state of emergency, which had been imposed in southeastern provinces for the fight against Kurdish militants in 1987.

Article 120 of the constitution allows a state of emergency to be imposed "at a time of serious deterioration of public order because of acts of violence."

Erdogan vowed that work would now continue "to fight to clean out all those viruses from the armed forces."

In a hugely unusual move after the state of emergency was announced, Erdogan early on Thursday read out the morning ezan call to prayer through loudspeakers at the mosque inside his presidential complex, the pro-government Yeni Safak daily said.

Meanwhile, mobile users across Turkey received text messages sent by "RTErdogan" urging people to stay in the streets to resist "the terrorists".

"The owners of the squares are not the tanks. The owners are the nation," said Erdogan in the text message.

Warning that his opponents may launch new provocations, Erdogan has urged his supporters to remain in squares across the country in what he calls a "vigil" for democracy.

After announcing the state of emergency in his press conference, Erdogan then spoke by video link to the crowds still filling squares nationwide at midnight.

Erdogan also suggested that there would be further detentions in the crackdown, which has already netted several widely known figures.

Late Wednesday, a court remanded in custody Ali Yazici, the president's aide-de-camp who looked after military protocol on state occasions and was regularly seen by his side, on charges of supporting the coup.

The crackdown has been extraordinary in scope, taking in not just soldiers but also judges, prosecutors and lawyers. Some 50,000 state employees have either been detained or lost their jobs.

Over 20,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs in state education and a similar number in the private sector have been stripped of their licences.

Courts have remanded in custody 99 out of 118 generals and admirals detained so far and also placing them in custody, with some later seen bruised and wounded.

"Of course that does not mean we have come to the end of it," Erdogan told Al-Jazeera in an interview before announcing the state of emergency.

Earlier the Turkish leader lashed out at critics of the sweeping purge, telling France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault -- who had warned Erdogan not to use the failed coup as a "blank cheque" to silence his opponents -- to "mind his own business".

"Does he have the authority to make these declarations about my person? No, he does not. If he wants a lesson in democracy, he can very easily get a lesson in democracy from us," Erdogan told Al-Jazeera.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed it was "vital that the state of emergency is limited for the required time and then immediately lifted.

"Only acts which are legally punishable can be targeted, not political opinion."

US Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by allied foreign ministers, said that while "we condemn this coup", it was important that the response to it "fully respects that democracy that we are supporting".

Turkey has stepped up pressure on Washington to extradite Gulen, sending several "dossiers" it says are packed with evidence about his alleged involvement.

Gulen has urged Washington to reject the extradition call and dismissed as "ridiculous" the claim he was behind the botched coup.

Erdogan, asked if other countries could have been involved in the coup, told Al-Jazeera: "There could be."

"The Gulen organisation has another superior mind, if you will, and the time will come when those connections will be deciphered."

The government says 312 people were killed in the coup, including 145 civilians, 60 police, three soldiers and 104 plotters.

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