Turkish government says situation under control; air base used by U.S. closed
(CNN) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is demanding that the United States arrest or extradite Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and former ally he blames for the failed coup attempt the night before. Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, has denied any connection to the coup attempt and said he condemned it. “This country suffered a lot in the hands of the Gulen movement,” Erdogan told supporters.
Turkey’s government said Saturday it was firmly in control after a coup attempt the night before sparked violence and chaos, leaving 161 people dead.
Friday’s uprising by some members of the military is the latest worrying example of deteriorating stability in a country that a few years ago was being promoted to the wider Muslim world as a model of democratic governance and economic prosperity.
Some 14 years after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political party swept to power in elections, Turkey once again teeters on the brink.
The turmoil exposes deep discontent within the military ranks and a defiant Erdogan has vowed to purge those traitorous elements. But less than 24 hours after the attempted putsch, questions remained about who masterminded it and why they decided to act now.
Thousands of military officers have been arrested, including the commander of Turkey’s 2nd army, Gen. Adem Huduti.
Key air base closed
Turkish military authorities, meanwhile, closed the airspace around Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base — the site Turkey allows the United States to use for operations related to its air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon said in a statement.
“U.S. officials are working with the Turks to resume air operations there as soon as possible,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. “In the meantime, U.S. Central Command is adjusting flight operations in the counter-ISIL campaign to minimize any effects on the campaign.”
American airstrike missions from that location have been halted. Turkish officials told the United States the airspace has been closed until they can make sure all Turkish air force elements are in the hands of pro-government forces, a U.S. defense official told CNN on Saturday.
Still, a small number of U.S. planes on missions before the airspace closed were allowed to land at Incirlik, the official said.
Earlier, the U.S. consulate in Adana reported that power to the base had been cut and authorities were preventing movement on and off the site. The consulate warned U.S. citizens to avoid the area.
Cook said U.S. facilities were operating on internal power sources and the shut down of commercial power has not affected base operations. He said defense department personnel in the area were “safe and secure.”
The base is home to the Turkish Air Force and the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing, which includes about 1,500 American personnel, according to the base website.
Uprising ‘under control’
Hours earlier, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the situation in Turkey was under control, with military commanders back to work.
“Our nation in this incident has shown a great resilience,” Yildirim said. “Those who have done this uprising should understand this reality that no one can play games with the stability of this country and the love of freedom and democracy.”
Chaos erupted Friday night when military tanks rolled onto the streets of Ankara and Istanbul and soldiers blocked the famous Bosphorus Bridge.
The Turkish military claim of a takeover was read on state broadcaster TRT. The anchor said the military imposed martial law.
The military said the goal was to maintain democratic order and that the “political administration that has lost all legitimacy has been forced to withdraw.”
But the attempted coup lost momentum after Erdogan returned from vacation at the seaside resort of Marmaris and declared his government in control. By the time he re-emerged following hours of silence, dozens had died in a night of violence.
Of the 161 deaths, most were police officers killed in a gun battle with a helicopter near the Parliament complex in Ankara, NTV reported. The building was damaged. In addition, Yildirim said, 1,140 people were wounded.
At least 2,839 military officers were detained, a source in the President’s office said. The Ankara chief public prosecutor’s office took nearly 200 top Turkish court officials into custody, Anatolian News Agency reported Saturday.
The officials include 140 members of the Supreme Court and 48 members of the Council of State, one of Turkey’s three high courts.
Those arrested included Huduti and Constitutional Court member Alparslan Altan, CNN Turk reported Saturday.
8 seek asylum in Greece
A Turkish helicopter carrying eight men landed in Greece Saturday and the men aboard requested political asylum, Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in a tweeted requested “the immediate surrender of eight heinous soldiers.”
But Greece will not necessarily return the alleged coup plotters, the Greek foreign minister said Saturday in a statement, which contradicted Cavusoglu’s earlier claim that the officer would be returned.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said “it will be borne very seriously in mind that the arrested parties stand accused in their country of violating constitutional legality and attempting to overthrow democracy.” The asylum request “will be examined based on the provisions of Greek and international law.”
Gerovasili said the helicopter — which landed at an airport in Alexandroupoli, near the Turkish border — would be returned to Turkey.
A night of violence
Witnesses described hours of chaos in Turkey, including explosions, gunfire and low flying jets.
Bombs struck the Parliament building in Ankara. A helicopter allegedly stolen by coup plotters was shot down by an F-16.
In Istanbul, a defiant Erdogan addressed throngs of supporters, saying the coup had been quashed.
“The government is in control,” he said amid chants of his name. He vowed to punish those behind the takeover attempt.
Shortly after dawn, video footage showed soldiers surrendering. Hundreds turned themselves in to police in Ankara, Turkish state media reported.
They walked away from tanks and abandoned their posts on the Bosphorus Bridge connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Turkish Airlines resumed flights out of Istanbul Ataturk airport, which had been overrun by protesters.
Erdogan took to task forces he blamed for what he called a treasonous putsch attempt.
“Now I’m addressing those in Pennsylvania,” he said, in an apparent reference to Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and former ally in exile in Pennsylvania.
“The betrayal you have shown to this nation and to this community, that’s enough,” he added.
On Saturday, before throngs of supporters, Erdogan demanded that the U.S. hand over Gulen.
In a statement, Gulen denied any connection and said he condemned the coup attempt.
Erdogan was elected Prime Minister in 2003. Under his rule, Turkey became a powerhouse in the Middle East. His reign came to an end in 2014, and his own party’s rules prevented him from seeking a fourth term.
He ran for president — and won. Before Erdogan, the presidency of Turkey was a largely ceremonial role, but Erdogan tried to change that by altering the constitution to give him more power.
Under Erdogan, who is extremely conservative, religion had started to play a more important role in Turkey, which is a largely secular country.
How did Turkey get here?
Today, the Turkish government is simultaneously battling two deadly terrorist organizations — ISIS and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Society is widely polarized between people who love or loathe Erdogan. Security services routinely use force to crush attempts at public protests against the government. Human rights groups constantly criticize the government for the arrest of critical journalists.
The violence has also taken its toll on the tourism industry and the value of the country’s currency.