Government says coup fended off in Turkey, but fighting continues

Aerial dogfights and bombings, military blockades and clashes between mobs and armed forces were ongoing across Turkey early Saturday despite claims from the government that an ongoing coup attempt had been sidelined.

By all accounts, at least a segment of the military was making an attempt to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, statements from military leaders denouncing the coup made clear that the armed forces were divided.

Media reports and witness accounts from Ankara and Istanbul painted a picture of jets flying overhead, some dropping bombs; soldiers blocking off key government institutions; tanks out in force in Ankara; and supporters of Erdogan taking to the streets.

At least 17 were reported dead in Ankara. A helicopter used by soldiers backing the coup was shot down by a military jet over Ankara, broadcaster NTV reported.

The country's intelligence service, MIT, said early Saturday the coup had been "repelled," according to NTV. According to a government source, Prime Minister Binali Yidirim has said the situation is largely under control

According to the Yidirim statement, the head of the army, Hulusi Akar, remains in control of the military and was not part of the coup.

Erdogan was expected to make a statement in the coming hours.

However, even as the announcement came, a large explosion was heard in central Istanbul, seemingly emanating from neighbourhoods close to Taksim Square. There were also reports of multiple explosions at the parliament building in Ankara.

An officer recently removed from his position as a legal advisor with Turkey's military chief of staff, identified as Muharrem Kose, is the key figure behind planning the ongoing coup attempt in Turkey, reported news agency Anadolu.

Several key commanders from different branches of the armed forces appeared on television to reject the coup, blaming a small group within the military, according to NTV, Hurriyet newspaper and a government official.

Erdogan, who was reportedly in a safe location, telephoned broadcaster CNN Turk to say he remains president and the head of the army.

He blamed US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen for the power grab. Gulen and Erdogan were once allies in trying to bring Erdogan's mildly Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party to power. However, since a split several years ago, Erdogan's forces have moved actively to dislodge Gulenists from power in Turkey.

A "group within the armed forces have made an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government outside the chain of command," said an official from Erdogan's office.

Erdogan called for the people to take to the streets against the coup. Witnesses reported crowds chanting "Allah Akhbar" (Praise Allah) in the streets of Istanbul. Prayers were being called out from mosques in Istanbul, hours before scheduled morning prayers.

The coup attempt was also condemned by the country's four major parties represented in the Turkish parliament - including the three parties in opposition - according to statements on television and on the party's Twitter feeds.

The news of the coup broke as an anchorwoman read a statement on state broadcaster TRT - according to the broadcaster, under duress. The station later went off the air for several hours. The presenter announced a curfew, citing the need for public safety.

Erdogan's staff said the statement did not come from the military's top command. However, the fact that the military's website was inactive for a period during the coup made it hard to ascertain who was in charge on the military side.

Soldiers reportedly took over the airport in Istanbul and stopped flights, according to Dogan, before clearing out after a confrontation with Erdogan supporters.

Amid the turmoil, several international air carriers - including Lufthansa, Aeroflot and KLM - reported recalling flights that were on their way to Turkey.

Armed forces also shut down several key bridges.

It is not Turkey's first coup, though it has been years since the last one.

In 1997 the military forced the government from office in the "post-modern coup." The last full military takeover occurred in 1980, including suspension of the constitution.

The head of the largest opposition party in Turkey, Kemal Kalicdaroglu of the centre-left People's Republican Party (CHP), came out against the latest coup in a series of tweets, saying the country has "suffered a lot" in past military takeovers. 

US President Barack Obama has been briefed on the apparent coup attempt, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

Obama also spoke to Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Moscow, to assess the situation.

"The president and secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically elected government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed," read a White House statement.

Similar calls came from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iran. NATO called for "calm and restraint" and respect for "Turkey's democratic institutions."

Fars reported that two border crossings between Iran and Turkey had been shut down and that President Hassan Rowhani was planning a crisis meeting on the situation in Turkey.

Last update: Sat, 16/07/2016 - 02:58

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