Former Turkish air force chief confesses to plot coup – state media

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ANKARA (REUTERS): Former Turkish air force chief Akin Ozturk has confessed to prosecutors his role in plotting the coup that attempted to topple the government over the weekend, state-run Anadolu Agency said on Monday. More than 200 people were killed after a faction in the military launched the coup attempt on Friday night, sealing off a bridge across the Bosphorus, trying to capture Istanbul’s main airport and sending tanks to parliament in Ankara.

Turks woke up early Saturday to television pictures showing dozens of soldiers surrendering after the failed coup, some with their hands above their head, others forced to the ground in the streets. “The situation is completely under control,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said outside his Ankara offices, flanked by Turkey’s top general who had himself been taken hostage by the plotters. Turkish officials say that nearly 8,000 police officers have been suspended on suspicion of having links to the coup attempt at the weekend.

Some 6,000 members of the judiciary and military, including generals, have been detained. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to purge state bodies of the “virus” that had caused the revolt. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has stressed the importance of democratic rule.

Speaking in Brussels where he has been meeting European foreign ministers, Mr Kerry said the US stood squarely on the side of the elected leadership in Turkey: “We will certainly support bringing perpetrators of the coup to justice – but we also caution against a reach that goes well beyond that.” Mr Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey would consider reinstating the death penalty – a suggestion that was met with strong opposition from EU leaders.

“No country can become an EU member if it introduces the death penalty,” said the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini. A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel was similarly clear that such a move would spell an end to Turkey’s longstanding, albeit stalled, application for EU membership.

Capital punishment was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey’s bid to join the bloc. Nobody has been executed in the country since 1984.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that 208 “martyrs” had lost their lives during the failed coup attempt, including 60 police, three soldiers and 145 civilians. Another 1,491 were injured, he said. Twenty-four alleged coup plotters were killed, Mr Yildirim said – a smaller number than Turkish officials previously reported.

Three years ago when the AK Party government began its fight against Fethullah Gulen – a cleric in self-imposed exile in the US, who was a close ally of Mr Erdogan for years – it began with the police department. The government knew where to find Gulen supporters, in part because it had helped them to take positions within the police when they were still allies. When the fight against Gulen movement started thousands of police were moved sideways into roles where they would not harm the government.

Now, instead of being reshuffled, thousands of police personnel have been suspended from their duties. Obviously Mr Erdogan has little room for taking risks. In a country which also faces threats from so-called Islamic State and Kurdish militants in its big cities, and has been targeted by suicide bombs, it is difficult to predict what the result of these large-scale suspensions will be. But with these personnel or without them, it will take time for anyone in Turkey to feel safe. More than 100 generals and admirals have been detained in raids across the country. Police and prosecutors searched Incirlik air base near the Syrian border on Monday. The base is used by warplanes of the US-led coalition against so-called Islamic State to launch attacks on the group in Syria. Turkey had restricted flights from the base in the hours following the coup attempt.

The air force academy in Istanbul was raided on Monday morning. According to state media, prosecutors have begun questioning an alleged ringleader of the coup attempt, former air force commander Akin Ozturk.

Overnight and into Monday morning the suspended police officers were called to regional headquarters and forced to hand over their weapons, Hurriyet reports.

Many provincial governors and judges have also been relieved of their duties.

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