Turkish authorities have expanded a crackdown on military officials to include police, judges, governors and millions of civil servants in a massive purge of opponents following a failed coup.
The Interior Ministry's move to suspend nearly 9000 employees raised the number of bureaucrats sacked or detained to nearly 20,000. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also suspended leave for more than three million civil servants. More than 7500 people have been detained.
A mutinous faction of Turkey's military staged the attempted coup on Saturday, hijacking fighter jets and helicopters to strike key installations and security forces. Raids were also launched to capture or kill President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as kidnap the chief of the armed forces.
Erdogan and his supporters say the campaign to root out traitors is necessary to restore the rule of law. But the sheer scale has alarmed Turkey's allies in the West, and raised fears that the Nato member is on a slide towards authoritarian rule.
Within hours of the revolt's failure, which left 290 dead and 1400 wounded, more than 6000 members of the military were rounded up and detained. Then the Government arrested a further 103 generals, dismissed 9000 civil servants, 8000 police officers, 30 of Turkey's 80 provincial governors, as well as a huge swath of the judiciary that has at times blocked Erdogan. One third of all the country's military and navy generals and admirals have been detained and almost every major military unit across the country has lost a commander.
More than 100 high-ranking officers have so far been charged with "high-treason" and face what might become a trial for their lives. Among them was Akin Ozturk, head of the air force until 2015 and a member of the High Military Council. A state-run media agency reported that he confessed to prosecutors to being one of the chief plotters. However, a private broadcaster said Ozturk claimed he had tried to stop the coup. "I am not someone who has planned or directed the coup attempt," he was cited as saying in his testimony. He appeared dishevelled and had injuries to his head and upper body.
"We are seeing a movement towards more authoritarianism" in the wake of the coup, said Marc Pierini, a Turkey expert at Carnegie Europe. Rights advocates warned that the swift round-up of so many bureaucrats indicated the arrests were based on little to no evidence. Such vast change at key state institutions may encourage rather than prevent more instability, critics said.
- Washington Post, Telegraph Group Ltd