Muscat: An Omani citizen on holiday in Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, reported hearing shots and police sirens from his hotel room as Friday’s attempted military coup unfolded.
“I was at the beach and had no idea about the coup. Soon after, I noticed helicopters in the skies above me. I then drove back to the hotel,” Majid Al Fazari told Times of Oman. “On my way to the hotel, I saw unusual movements and inspection points,” he added.
Al Fazari said he then saw the news about the coup on his hotel room TV and followed news updates on WhatsApp.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters rallied in public squares, at Istanbul airport and outside his palace, in a show of defiance after a failed coup attempt killed at least 290 people and raised expectations of a heavy crackdown on dissent.
Rebel soldiers used tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets to try to topple Erdogan on Friday night, strafing parliament and the intelligence headquarters in Ankara, while seizing a bridge and surrounding the airport in Istanbul.
Yet by Saturday, authorities had rounded up nearly 6,000 suspected plotters in the military, including top commanders and foot soldiers, and ordered thousands of judges detained after forces loyal to Erdogan crushed the attempted coup.
“Let’s hang them!” chanted crowds in Ankara’s central Kizilay Square late on Saturday. Footage from Turkey shows soldiers being beaten by citizens in the wake of the attempted coup, with many soldiers claiming they were unaware of the rebellion and thought they were following orders.
Erdogan supporters, waving Turkish flags, also thronged central Taksim Square in Istanbul –the scene of mass anti-government protests three years ago - and a smaller crowd gathered outside the gates of the vast presidential palace complex in the capital.
For at least eight hours overnight on Friday, violence shook Turkey’s two main cities.
But the coup attempt crumbled as Erdogan rushed back to Istanbul from a Mediterranean holiday and urged people to take to the streets in support of his government and against plotters he accused of trying to kill him.
The violence shocked the nation of almost 80 million, once seen as a model Muslim democracy, where living standards have grown steadily for more than a decade. The army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago.
The coup attempt also shattered the fragile confidence among Turkey’s allies about security in the NATO member country, a leading member of the US-led coalition against IS, which aspires to membership in the European Union. Turkey had already been hit by repeated suicide bombings over the past year and is struggling to contain an insurgency by Kurdish separatists.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama urged parties on all sides of the crisis to avoid destabilising Turkey and follow the rule of law. US authorities banned airlines from flying to the United States from Turkey, citing security concerns, and urged US citizens to reconsider travel to Turkey.
Also, French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday that he expected there would be a period of repression in Turkey, in the aftermath of the failed coup.
“They will pay a heavy price for this,” Erdogan said, launching a purge of the armed forces. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”
He told crowds chanting for a return of the death penalty, which has been abolished, that parliament might consider such a proposal.
Hundreds of soldiers were held in Ankara because of their alleged involvement, leaving police stations overflowing. Among those detained was the head of the Second Army, which protects the country’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Others among those arrested had to be driven, under armed police escort, in buses to a sports stadium. Reuters footage showed detainees, handcuffed and stripped from the waist up, sitting on the floor of one of the buses. The government has declared the situation under control, saying those rounded up, included “the backbone” of the rebellion.
A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled the country since 2003, would have marked another seismic shift in the Middle East, five years after Arab uprisings erupted and plunged Turkey’s southern neighbour, Syria, into civil war. But the failed attempt could still destabilise the U.S. ally, which lies between Europe and the chaos of Syria.
Erdogan has blamed the coup attempt on supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he has frequently accused of trying to foment an uprising in the military, media and judiciary. Authorities began a major crackdown in the judiciary of those suspected of having links to Gulen, removing them from their posts and ordering the detention of nearly 3,000 prosecutors and judges on Saturday, including some from the nation’s top courts.
The cleric, who once supported Erdogan but became a leading adversary, condemned the attempted coup and said he played no role in it. He said the attempted overthrow of the government may have been staged to justify a crackdown.
“As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations,” Gulen said in a statement. Erdogan, however, called upon the United States to extradite Gulen.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was willing to help Turkey, as it tries to identify those involved, but made clear it would act only if there was evidence against Gulen.
Kerry also warned that public suggestions of a US role were “utterly false” and harmful to relations, after Turkey’s labour minister suggested there had been US involvement in the plot.
Erdogan, who had been on holiday on the southwest coast when the coup attempt was launched, flew to Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and told thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport that the government remained at the country’s helm.
A polarising figure whose extremist-rooted ideology lies at odds with supporters of modern Turkey’s secular principles, Erdogan said the plotters had tried to attack him in the resort town of Marmaris.
His AK Party has long had strained relations with the military, which has a history of mounting coups in defence of secularism, although it has not directly seized power since 1980. His conservative religious vision for Turkey’s future has also alienated many ordinary citizens, who accuse him of authoritarianism. Police used heavy force in 2013 to suppress mass protests, demanding more freedom.
Erdogan commands the admiration and loyalty of millions of Turks, however, particularly for raising living standards and restoring order to an economy once beset by regular crises.
This latest violence is likely to hit the country’s tourism industry, already suffering from terrorist bombings, and business confidence also remains vulnerable.
(With agency inputs)