A Turkish army faction backed by tanks and fighter jets was waging a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today, but the strongman returned to Istanbul defiantly claiming to have regained control.
Soldiers and tanks took to the streets late yesterday and multiple explosions rang out throughout the night in Ankara and Istanbul, the two biggest cities of the strategic NATO country of 80 million people.
With officials insisting the takeover bid was falling apart, officials said 60 people have been killed and 754 detained in a night of violence in Turkey’s major cities. Dozens of soldiers backing the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul that they had held throughout the night, holding their hands above their heads as they were detained, television pictures showed.
Erdogan predicted that the putsch would fail and crowds of supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came out onto the streets to try to block it. After hours of chaos unseen in decades, the president ended uncertainty over his whereabouts, flying into Istanbul airport in the early hours where he made a defiant speech and was greeted by hundreds of supporters.
Erdogan denounced the coup attempt as “treachery” but said he was carrying out his functions and would keep on working “to the end”. “What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price for this act of treason,” Erdogan said at the airport. “We will not leave our country to occupiers.”
The sound of F16 fighter jets flying over the capital Ankara signalled the start of the putsch late Friday, with troops also moving to block the bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. As protesters took to the streets, an AFP photographer saw troops open fire on people gathered near one of the bridges, leaving tens wounded.
Soldiers also opened shot at protesters angrily denouncing the coup bid at Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square, injuring several. Turkish army F-16s launched air strikes against tanks stationed by coup backers outside the presidential palace in Ankara, while the parliament was also bombed.
Regular explosions could be heard from the AFP office situated near the complex. World leaders called for calm, with US President Barack Obama and other Western countries urging support for the government which they said had been elected in democratic elections.
The night of drama and bloodshed brings new instability to the Middle East region, with Turkey a key powerbroker in the ongoing Syria conflict.