Turkey says it has detained 6,000 people following Friday’s coup attempt, as Washington rejected claims that it was somehow involved in the failed putsch.
“The cleansing [operation] is continuing,” said Bekir Bozdag, the Turkish justice minister, in a television interview. “Some 6,000 detentions have taken place. The number could surpass 6,000.”
The US State Department released a statement denying any link to the events, after the Turkish government, a nominal US ally, blamed the coup on an exiled Turkish dissident who has been given sanctuary in the American state of Pennsylvania.
“Public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations,” the State Department said, summarising a message given by the secretary of state, John Kerry, to his Turkish counterpart.
The spat was sparked after the Turkish government claimed the coup was planned by followers of Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Islamist scholar and dissident. Gülen denies the charge, but the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has called on the US to extradite him – arguing that Turkey has extradited plenty of terrorism suspects in the opposite direction.
“I say if we are strategic partners then you should bring about our request,” Erdoğan said in a speech on Saturday.
Bozdag said he was confident that Gülen would be returned by the US: “The United States would weaken itself by protecting him, it would harm its reputation. I don’t think that at this hour, the United States would protect someone who carried out this act against Turkey.”
In response, Kerry pointedly said that Turkey should produce evidence of Gülen’s guilt, amid concerns that Erdoğan was using the aftermath of the coup to settle scores with enemies both at home and abroad.
“We would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny,” Kerry was quoted as saying at a press conference.
Meanwhile, bombing raids on Syrian outposts of Islamic State were put on hold after it was claimed that a group of Turkish soldiers at the US’s airbase in Turkey were involved in the botched coup.
A Turkish official said the rebels used a Turkish refuelling plane at Incirlik, the airbase used by the US to mount its raids over the border in Syria, on Friday night.
He said “a small group of Turkish troops stationed at Incirlik supported [the] coup attempt”. There was no suggestion that US troops at the base were in any way involved.
Both leaders of Islamist movements, Erdoğan and Gülen once had common cause in Turkey, partnering against secular opponents in the Turkish state.
But in recent years Erdoğan has accused Gülen of remotely orchestrating a campaign to oust him from power.
While Gülen went into exile in 1999 to flee Erdoğan’s predecessors, Erdoğan himself definitely turned on Gülen in 2014, when Gülen was issued with an arrest warrant for allegedly running “a terrorist group”.
This has not stopped him from using the coup to crack down on his opponents.
Gülen denies his supporters are behind this weekend’s events in Turkey, and the plotters themselves said they were fighting to protect Turkey’s secular traditions. Erdoğan has been criticised for eroding the secular mentality of the Turkish state, and undermining Turkish democracy.
In a speech on Saturday, he said the coup was “a gift from God” because it would allow him now to “cleanse the army”.
At least 2,800 officers and soldiers were arrested on Saturday as the purge began, including five generals.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has called on Washington to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Islamist scholar. One was Erdal Ozturk, the commander of Turkey’s third army, who could now face the death penalty after Erdoğan’s allies called for a change to the constitutions to allow the execution of coup plotters.
Erdoğan’s purge continued in other state institutions, with over 2,700 judges fired from their posts.
Most analysts agree that the failed coup has given him the public support he needs to push for a change to the political system.
Erdoğan wants to formally centralise power around him as president, rather than the parliament – continuing an autocratic trend that he has led in recent years.
Commenting on the situation in the Guardian, Turkish analyst Andrew Finkel said that “many would argue that Turkey was already in the throes of a slow motion coup d’état, not by the military but by Erdoğan himself. For the last three years, he has been moving, and methodically, to take over the nodes of power.”
Nevertheless, Turkey’s secular opposition was united in its opposition to the coup attempt. “Yes we have problems in Turkey,” said Hişyar Özsoy, an MP for the pro-Kurdish HD party. “But at the same time no military intervention can be a solution.”