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265 dead, 1,440 injured as Turkey coup bid crumbles

Last updated on: July 17, 2016 03:10 IST
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Turkish authorities said they had regained control of the country on Saturday after thwarting a coup attempt by discontented soldiers to seize power from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that claimed 265 lives.

After the bloodiest challenge to his 13-year autocratic rule, Erdogan urged his backers to stay on the streets to prevent a possible "flare-up" of Friday's chaos in the strategic NATO member of 80 million people.

IMAGE: A Turkish military stands guard near the Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters 

With at least 2,839 soldiers already detained in a relentless round-up over the coup plot, the authorities blamed the conspiracy on Erdogan's arch enemy, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turks woke up early on Saturday to television pictures showing dozens of soldiers surrendering after the apparent failure of the 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.

Describing the attempted coup as a "black stain" on Turkey's democracy, Yildirim said 265 people had been killed in the night of violence and 1,440 wounded.

This toll did not appear to include 104 rebel soldiers killed overnight, bringing the overall death toll from the bloodshed to 265.

IMAGE: Supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate with the Turkish flag in the resort town of Marmaris, Turkey. Photograph: Kenan Gurbuz/Reuters 

Erdogan was on vacation and away from both Ankara and Istanbul when the coup began.

Upon arrival at Istanbul's Ataruk Airport, Erdogan addressed thousands of flag-waving supporters, saying the coup will not succeed. "They have pointed the people's guns against the people," he said. "The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge. This government brought to power by the people, is in charge. They won't succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything."

Erdogan also called the coup a "gift from God" because it will help Turkey clean out the military from the "members of this gang." The timing of the coup was "meaningful," because the military will start meetings in the beginning of August, and those who staged the coup were afraid of the decisions that would be made at those meetings, Erdogan said.

"This is not old Turkey," he said. "This is new Turkey."

IMAGE: A Turkish army tank drives on a street in Ankara.  Photograph: Reuters 

In a FaceTime interview with CNN Turk, Erdogan called on his supporters to gather in the country's squares and airports.

"We will give a strong reply to the leader of the coup," Erdogan said. "I declare those responsible will receive the highest penalty.”

He said, "I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people."

"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.

Describing the attempted coup as a "black stain" on Turkey's democracy, Yildirim said 265 people had been killed in the night of violence and 1,440 wounded.

This toll did not appear to include 104 rebel soldiers killed overnight, bringing the overall death toll from the bloodshed to 265.

During a night where power was in the balance, large crowds of flag-waving supporters of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party defied orders of a curfew and marching out onto the streets to block the attempt to overthrow the regime.

IMAGE: Turkish soldiers surrender their weapons to policemen during an attempted coup in Istanbul's Taksim Square.  Photograph: Reuters 

During a night where power was in the balance, large crowds of flag-waving supporters of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party defied orders of a curfew and marching out onto the streets to block the attempt to overthrow the regime.

And Erdogan used his Twitter feed to urge people onto the streets to ensure no further challenges to his power.

"We should keep on owning the streets tonight no matter at what stage (the coup attempt is) because a new flare-up could take place at any moment," he said.

As the dust settled on a dramatic and chaotic night, TV pictures on Saturday showed extensive damage to the parliament building in Ankara that was bombed by rebel jets.

IMAGE: People stand on a Turkish army tank at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey.  Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters 

Friday's putsch bid began with rebel F-16 jets screaming low over rooftops in Ankara, soldiers and tanks taking to the streets and multiple explosions throughout the night in the capital as well as the biggest city Istanbul.

Rebel troops also moved to block the two bridges across the BosphorusStrait in Istanbul, culminating in a stand-off with an angry crowd.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC released a statement: "The situation unfolded in Turkey was a coup attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government. This attempt was foiled by the Turkish people in unity and solidarity. Our President and government are in charge. Turkish Armed Forces was not involved in the coup attempt in its entirety. It was conducted by a clique within the Armed Forces and received a well-deserved response from our nation."

IMAGE: People take cover near policemen as gunfire are heard during an attempted coup in Istanbul's Taksim Square.  Photograph: Tumay Berkin/Reuters 

As protesters poured onto the streets, an AFP photographer saw troops open fire on people gathered near one of the bridges, leaving dozens wounded.

Soldiers also shot at protesters angrily denouncing the coup bid at Istanbul's Taksim Square, injuring several.

There was chaos in Istanbul as angry crowds jeered the passing tanks, with smaller numbers welcoming the troops.

"The people are afraid of a military government," a 38-year-old man who gave his name as Dogan told AFP. "Most of them have been in military service, they know what a military government would mean."

Turkish army F-16s launched air strikes against tanks stationed by coup backers outside the presidential palace in Ankara. Regular explosions could be heard from the AFP office situated near the complex.

Reports said that Turkish lawmakers were hiding in shelters inside the parliament building in Ankara, which had been fired on by tanks. An opposition MP told Reuters that the parliament was hit three times and that people had been wounded.

The source also said security forces are still facing some difficulties in parts of Ankara and Istanbul and that this may continue for the next 24 hours, but will be contained.

Earlier, one of the helicopters being flown by forces involved in the coup attempt was shot down over Ankara.

In a key moment in the standoff, Turkish security forces rescued the country's top army general Hulusi Akar who had reportedly been taken hostage in the earlier stages of the coup bid.

Istanbul authorities sought to make a show of normalisation with the bridges reopening to traffic and Ataturk International Airport - which had been shut down by the plotters -- gradually reopening.

IMAGE: People surround a Turkish army tank in Ankara  Photograph: Reuters 

Erdogan, who flew back from the holiday resort of Marmaris to a triumphant welcome from supporters at AtaturkAirport, denounced the coup attempt as "treachery".

"They will pay a heavy price for this act of treason," Erdogan said. "We will not leave our country to occupiers."

The president's critics have long accused him of undermining modern Turkey's secular roots and of sliding into authoritarianism -- but he was believed to have won control of the military after purging elements who opposed him.

Turkey's once-powerful military has long considered itself the guardian of the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

It has staged three coups since 1960 and forced out an Islamic government in 1997.

Erdogan immediately pinned the blame on "the parallel state" and "Pennsylvania" -- a reference to Gulen, his arch-enemy whom he has always accused of seeking to overthrow him.

But the president's former ally "categorically" denied any involvement in the plot, calling the accusation "insulting".

Yildirim took aim at the United States for hosting what he called "the leader of a terrorist organisation."

"Whichever country is behind him is not a friend of Turkey and in a serious war against Turkey," he added.

IMAGE: Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, in Istanbul  Photograph: Reuters 

Speaking in Luxembourg, US Secretary of State John Kerry invited Turkey to hand over any evidence it had against Gulen.

Meanwhile, Turkey demanded the extradition of eight people thought to have been involved in the putsch who landed in a Black Hawk military helicopter in Greece.

And Istanbul authorities sought to get life back to normal with the bridges reopening to traffic and AtaturkInternationalAirport -- shut down by the plotters -- gradually reopening.

But the US government said it has suspended all flights to Turkey, and banned all airlines from flying to the United States from Turkey due to uncertainty after the coup bid.

The attempted coup brought new instability to the Middle East region, with Turkey a key powerbroker in the ongoing Syria conflict.

And world leaders appealed for calm, with US President Barack Obama and other Western countries urging support for the government they said had been democratically elected.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomed what he called the "strong support shown by the people and all political parties to democracy and to the democratically elected government of Turkey," a key member of the alliance.

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