Addressing a big crowd of supporters gathered in Istanbul shortly after dawn, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government was now fully in control following a night of bloodshed that saw Turkey, a major NATO member and key U.S. ally, spin briefly out of control.
“This government, brought to power by the people, is in charge,” he said, as the crowd roared: “Turkey is proud of you.”
“I am here, I am with you and I want you to know this,” Erdogan said.
Hours earlier, branches of the police and army had fought pitched battles for control of major government buildings in the capital, Ankara, as protesters swarmed onto the streets to confront the tanks rumbling into their cities. Helicopters flown by coup supporters fired on government buildings and into the crowds gathering to challenge the attempt to overthrow Turkey’s government, in the most significant challenge to the country’s stability in decades.
Turkey’s prime minister says the military attempted a coup against the government. (Twitter/HazalKoptagel)
At least 60 people were killed in the violence in Ankara, including a lawmaker who died when the parliament was bombed by a helicopter, Turkish officials said.The State run Anadolu news agency said 754 members of the armed forces had been arrested. A Turkish official said 29 colonels and five generals had been removed from their posts.
Gruesome video footage posted on social media showed tanks crushing protesters who tried to block their path, bloodied bodies strewn on the streets of Ankara and helicopters firing into civilian crowds, raising fears that the toll could be higher.
By the early hours of Saturday morning, Turkish officials said the government had managed to claw back control from the coup plotters, whose identity and profile remained unclear. A Turkish warplane shot down a helicopter carrying some of the coup leaders, the officials said, and the state broadcaster, which had been silent for several hours after it was overrun by soldiers, was back on the air.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport reopened after being closed for hours, and officials said the national airline had resumed flights.
Erdogan, who was visiting the coastal resort of Marmaris when the coup began, had flown to the airport and emerged to greet the thousands of cheering, flag-waving supporters who had descended on the facility to eject the coup participants.
“A minority group within the armed forces targeted the integrity of our country,” Erdogan told reporters at a news conference broadcast live on state television. “This latest action is an action of treason, and they will have to pay heavily for that. This is a government that has been elected by the people.”
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued orders early Saturday to the military aircraft pilots still loyal to the government to take to the skies to shoot down any remaining planes flying on behalf of the coup plotters, who appeared to include a sizable proportion of the air force.
“The situation is largely in control,” Yildirim told Turkey’s NTV television channel. “All commanders are in charge. The people have taken steps to address this threat.”
“We expect the situation to end by the morning,” added a senior Turkish official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive information.
But with reports that gunfire and explosions were still being heard on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara well into the morning, it was far from clear whether the worst crisis in Turkey in decades had been resolved.
Soldiers subsequently overran the offices of several major media organizations, including CNN Turk, which went off the air.
The unrest raised fears that Turkey could be destined for a prolonged period of civil strife that would reverberate across an already bloodstained and chaotic region.
The splits within the security forces and the chaotic scenes on the streets revealed a society polarized between supporters and opponents of the deeply controversial Erdogan, whose autocratic behavior has alienated some segments of Turkish society but who remains hugely popular among his core constituents.
With the main opposition parties making statements condemning the coup attempt, and most of the important branches of the military and security services rallying to the government’s side, it did not appear that the renegades had widespread support.
The upheaval began Friday evening when tanks and other armoured vehicles appeared on bridges across the Bosporous in Istanbul and F-16s began streaking through the skies.
Shortly afterward, an anchor with the state television broadcaster read a statement purportedly from the Turkish military saying it had taken control of the country, citing concerns about the increasingly autocratic behaviour of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, in accordance with the constitution, have seized management of the country to reinstate democracy, human rights, and freedom, and to ensure public order, which has deteriorated,” the statement said.
Erdogan, whose party won a comfortable majority in elections last year, then appealed to his supporters to take to the streets to protest the coup. He spoke to the nation using the FaceTime app on the phone of a Turkish TV anchor.
Many thousands responded, with protesters gathering in venues including Istanbul’s central Taksim Square and outside Erdogan’s palace in Ankara. Mobile phone videos uploaded to social-media sites showed scenes in which people scrambled over tanks to try to block their path and soldiers opening fire on some of the crowds.
Turkish officials blamed the coup attempt on a small group of disgruntled military officers loyal to the movement of a U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who maintains a network of adherents across Turkey and has long challenged Erdogan’s hold on power. The officers were destined to lose their jobs in August during a military reshuffle, said the Turkish official.
The Gulenist movement denied involvement, however, and amid the confusion, it was impossible to confirm who was behind the attempt to topple the government.
Erdogan has made many enemies in the 13 years he has run Turkey, first as prime minister and then, since 2014, as president, including within the military. Hundreds of officers have been imprisoned by his government, some of them accused of coup-plotting, and it had been widely thought that his crackdown on dissent had dispelled the risk of coups in the once coup-prone country.
These latest coup plotters included members of the air force and gendarmerie, and at least 130 have been arrested, according to the Turkish official. Among them were 13 officers who tried to force their way into the presidential palace, the official said.