Ankara (AFP) – Turkey faced fresh accusations it was flouting the rule of law with its purge of 50,000 people after an attempted coup, as the president gathered security chiefs Wednesday for the first time since the putsch.
Authorities have rounded up or sacked tens of thousands of police, judges, teachers and other civil servants from across the state bureaucracy in the aftermath of Friday’s failed bid to seize power by disgruntled elements in the military.
But the purge has sparked an outpouring of global concern with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman saying: “nearly every day we are seeing new measures that flout the rule of law and that disregard the principle of proportionality.”
The putsch left more than 300 dead and caused scenes of devastation, especially in Ankara where raids by fighter jets and attack helicopters turned parts of parliament and the police headquarters to rubble.
The president returned to the capital late Tuesday for the first time since the coup and chaired meetings of his national security council, composed of top military brass and security ministers, and the cabinet, at his presidential palace.
Erdogan was in the Aegean resort of Marmaris when the coup struck and then, narrowly escaping the rebel soldiers, flew to Istanbul where he had stayed since, appearing before crowds of flag-waving supporters each night in “vigils” for democracy.
He told supporters in Istanbul on Monday that “an important decision” would be announced after the security meeting, without specifying — fuelling fears that the government may impose even tougher security measures.
– ‘Flout the rule of law’ –
About 9,300 people have been detained, including 118 generals and admirals accused of treason for allegedly masterminding the plot as well as soldiers, police and judges.
The number of state education ministry personnel suspended has risen by some 6,000 to nearly 22,000, according to reports Wednesday.
Also, 21,000 people working in private education will have their licences removed and banned from teaching in the future. Even the sports ministry has dismissed 245 personnel.
Turkey’s higher education council also banned academics from work trips abroad and urged those overseas to return home quickly.
The moves amplified international concern Erdogan was using the coup plot as a pretext to crack down on opponents, with Turkey’s Western allies urging the authorities in the strategic NATO state to obey the rule of law.
Erdogan’s suggestion that the death penalty could be reinstated has sent shockwaves through Europe, with the EU warning such a move would be the nail in the coffin of Turkey’s already embattled bid to join the bloc.
Ankara says the coup was masterminded by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and the massive crackdown appears to be targeting individuals suspected of any connection to Erdogan’s ally-turned-foe.
Turkey accuses Gulen of running a “terror group” and has stepped up pressure on Washington to extradite him, sending several “dossiers” it says are packed with evidence about his alleged involvement.
Gulen issued a statement Tuesday urging Washington to reject the extradition call and dismissed as “ridiculous” the claim he was behind the botched coup.
The 75-year-old reclusive cleric lives in Pennsylvania but retains vast interests in Turkey ranging from media to finance to schools and wields influence in various arms of the state, including the judiciary and police.
In their first telephone conversation since the attempted overthrow, President Barack Obama pledged US assistance to Erdogan for the investigation into the putsch, which has threatened to once again raise tensions between the uneasy NATO allies.
– Rubble and glass –
MPs have meanwhile carried on working in parliament, despite rubble and shards of glass still covering the floor after three air strikes on the night of the coup.
Ankara’s police headquarters is in an even worse state, with the 10-storey building gutted by repeated air attacks and the air still thick with dust from the rubble.
“I do not know how long the rebuilding will take. But we have started,” a senior police official told AFP at the scene.
The government says 312 people were killed in the coup, including 145 civilians, 60 police, three soldiers and 104 plotters.
Before the plot erupted, the government had been waging a relentless military campaign against Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country and their rear bases in northern Iraq.
The Turkish air force launched its first strikes since the abortive putsch against targets of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, in a sign Erdogan has regained full control over the armed forces.
Fighter jets late Tuesday hit PKK targets in the Hakurk region, said the state-run Anadolu news agency, quoting security sources. It claimed 20 fighters were killed.