Istanbul (AFP) – Turkish authorities on Sunday pressed on with a ruthless crackdown against suspects in the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with 6,000 people including generals and judges detained in a move that has sparked international concern.
World leaders including US President Barack Obama have strongly condemned the attempted putsch but also urged Turkey to respect the rule of law in its aftermath, especially after pictures emerged showing the rough treatment of some coup plotters when arrested.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said Sunday that around 6,000 people had been detained in “clean-up operations” and that the number would rise.
And a resurgent Erdogan told a crowd of thousands at a funeral for the victims in Istanbul that there would be no let-up in the fight against his enemy Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher he accuses of masterminding the coup.
“We will continue to clean the virus from all state bodies because this virus has spread. Unfortunately like a cancer, this virus has enveloped the state,” he said.
According to the government, 161 civilians and regular troops lost their lives when a group within the army sought to overthrow the authorities by seizing key strategic points in Istanbul and Ankara late Friday.
A total of 104 coup plotters were also killed, the military has said.
The Turkish authorities have made clear they will show no mercy in the wake of the coup which sparked fears of chaos in the strategic NATO member of 80 million people.
It was the biggest challenge to Erdogan’s rule in his 13 years as prime minister and now president, with critics saying he was becoming increasingly authoritarian.
But the 62-year-old leader successfully mobilised supporters into the streets to face down the plotters.
Thousands responded late Saturday to a new call by the president to pour into the squares to celebrate the “victory of democracy” with mass rallies of flag-waving Turks reported in cities including Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.
“They may have tanks but we have our faith. We will not leave the squares… but we will continue defiantly,” said Erdogan.
Turkish television has shown images of captured suspects forced to lie face down on the tarmac after their arrest while AFP photographers have seen suspects roughly led away pursued by angry mobs.
NTV television said 34 generals of various grades had been detained so far, including several senior army commanders.
Turkey also detained air force brigadier general Bekir Ercan Van and other officers accused of backing the failed coup at the key Incirlik air base used by US forces for raids in Syria.
With Ankara-Washington tensions increasing, Turkey had in the wake of the coup shut airspace around Incirlik as a security measure, forcing the US to stop strikes against jihadists in Syria.
But Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement the airspace had been reopened and operations against the Islamic State group had resumed.
The putsch added to the turmoil in Turkey after a wave of deadly attacks blamed on Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish rebels fighting the state.
Former chief of staff Ilker Basbug told Dogan news agency that Turkey should make a distinction between the coup planners and young soldiers “of 20 years old who may have been mistaken”.
The crackdown is however not restricted to the military and Anadolu said prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for a total of 2,745 judges and prosecutors across Turkey.
The entire investigation is being led by Ankara prosecutors and those arrested are suspected of belonging to Gulen’s group, which Turkey dubs the “Fethullahci Terror Organisation (FETO)”.
Gulen’s supporters say their group which they call Hizmet (Service) is entirely peaceful.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of running a “parallel state”, and called on Obama to extradite the reclusive preacher to face justice.
In an interview with Haberturk television, Labour Minister Suleyman Soylu went even further, saying: “The United States is behind the coup” and adding it had now to hand over Gulen.
Gulen has categorically denied any involvement in the plot and suggested it could have been staged by Erdogan himself.
Meanwhile, Obama has warned Turkey there is a “vital need” for all parties to “act within the rule of law” in the aftermath of the coup.
However there was no such concern from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called Erdogan to wish for a “speedy restoration of strong constitutional order”.
Erdogan and Putin, who were feuding over the shooting down of a Russian jet until last month, will meet in the first week of August, Anadolu said.
Turkey has also demanded the extradition of eight people thought to have been involved in the putsch who landed in a Black Hawk military helicopter in Greece.
Istanbul authorities have sought to get life back to normal but Washington on Saturday warned citizens against travel to the country due to uncertainty after the coup bid.