Turkey’s leaders said they have largely quelled an attempted military coup, after army officers claimed to have seized power in the country. Clashes persisted in major cities as tanks blockaded roads, soldiers fought with police and warplanes bombed the parliament in Ankara.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a speech from Istanbul’s international airport, blamed the coup attempt on a group of followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. “They will pay a heavy price for their treason,” Erdogan said in comments carried by AHaber.
Meanwhile, clashes persisted around military headquarters in Ankara, while massive explosions continued to rock the capital — where the legislature was hit by at least two airstrikes — and Istanbul. About 60 people have been killed, according to local media outlet Haberturk.
In earlier comments from an undisclosed location, Erdogan said he’s still in charge of the country and urged the public to take to the streets and public squares in resistance. Mosques broadcast the same call from their minarets, and local television showed anti-coup crowds gathering in Istanbul, the largest city, and Ankara.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the situation was largely under the control, and top military leaders who weren’t involved in the uprising condemned it. Turkey’s NATO allies declared their support for the elected government.
The army faction behind the rebellion said in an e-mailed statement earlier that it had seized power to restore freedom and democracy. They briefly took over state-run TV to broadcast a declaration of martial law, saying the government had lost its legitimacy. The network appeared to have been restored to government control. But CNN-Turk, an affiliate of the U.S. news channel, said soldiers entered its headquarters in Istanbul.
“The coup attempt in Turkey seems backed by only a faction in the Turkish military and is unlikely to succeed,” said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security in Washington. “The rest of the Turkish military, plus the intelligence services will keep Erdogan in power.”
The U.S. backed Erdogan and his government. The Obama administration has “absolute support” for the elected government of Turkey, its NATO ally, Secretary of State John Kerry said in an e-mailed statement. He said he’s spoken this evening with his Turkish counterpart to pledge his backing. President Barack Obama told Kerry that “all parties” in Turkey should support the government, the White House said.
Tanks rolled through the streets of the capital as well as in Istanbul, and lawmakers in the Ankara parliament said the building was hit by an airstrike. Turkey’s lira plunged as much as 6 percent against the dollar, the most since 2010.
Since 1960, Turkey has experienced at least three takeovers by the secular-minded army. The Islamist-rooted Ak Party government, which came to power in 2002, made it a priority to trim the political influence of the military.
Turkey’s main opposition parties condemned the coup attempt. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the secular Republican People’s Party, said his group is “bound to the free will of our citizens, the cornerstone of parliamentary democracy.” Turkey parliament speaker Ismail Kahraman said he’s been in touch with other parties and they’re united against the military takeover.
Yildirim told NTV television that the police, traditionally closer to his government than the army, were ordered to use arms if necessary. Television footage showed police officers apparently being arrested by the army, and CNN Turk television said police fired at a military helicopter in Ankara. Seventeen police were killed in an aerial attack on an anti-terrorism force headquarters in Ankara, Anadolu reported.
Erdogan, who previously served as prime minister for more than a decade until 2014, has been accused by domestic opponents and human rights groups of becoming increasingly authoritarian and attempting to silence critics. He’s fought to transform the once largely ceremonial post of president and make it the main seat of power.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has also been drawn deeper into some of the region’s most intractable conflicts, especially in neighboring Syria. Islamic State militants based there have attacked Turkish cities and border posts, killing scores of people. A decades-old conflict with separatist Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country has also been reignited after a three-year lull.
‘Discontent With Erdogan’
“The coup attempt is driven by multiple factors but mainly discontent with Erdogan himself, including his failure to protect the Turkish state from ISIS and failed Syrian policy,” Theodore Karasik, a Middle East analyst at Gulf State Analytics in Washington, said by e-mail. “Leading figures felt that their own positions in the military were in jeopardy.”
The economy has been stretched by the arrival of nearly 3 million refugees fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria, as well as a recently resolved diplomatic scrap with Russia after Turkish planes shot down a Russian jet they said had entered the nation’s airspace.
The coup attempt represents bad news for investors however it turns out, said Emad Mostaque, a London-based strategist at emerging-markets consultancy Ecstrat Ltd. A failed takeover “would see all resistance to the AKP stamped out,” while a successful one would risk civil strife given the governing party has “hundreds of thousands of vehement supporters,” he said in an e-mail.