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A defiant Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday morning that an attempted coup had failed, as the Turkish president launched a series of attacks and arrests on the breakaway military faction he accused of seeking to overthrow his government.
“The government is in control,” Mr Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. As broadcasters showed soldiers surrendering on a bridge across the Bosphorus, he said: “My people took those tanks back . . . We are not going to compromise.”
Umit Dundar, the military’s acting chief of joint command, said that 90 people — 47 of them civilians, the rest police and security forces — had died in the unrest, with another 104 people involved in the coup plot killed.
More than 1,100 people were wounded, while 1,560 members of the military and security forces, suspected of planning and carrying out the attempted coup, were arrested, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. Of these, 250 were seized at the Gendarmerie HQ in Ankara. Five generals and 29 colonels were also removed from their posts.
The president and his backers appeared to have regained a semblance of control over loyal factions of the military and the police early on Saturday, and regained access to the state-run television and radio channels.
Coup supporters “will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey”, said Mr Erdogan, in a statement from his office. “Those who stain the military’s reputation must leave. The process has started today, and it will continue just as we fight other terrorist groups.”
The government deployed fighter jets in its effort to take out tanks, and regain control of the skies. F16s launched air strikes at tanks positioned outside the Presidential palace in Ankara, a Turkish official said, and downed a military helicopter involved in an attack against Turksat, which provides television and communication signals. Fifteen tanks from another city were deployed by Mr Erdogan’s government.
Mr Erdogan flew back from holiday to Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday, saying: “We are in charge and we will continue exercising our powers until the end. We will not abandon our country to these invaders.”
The president suggested that he had been targeted for assassination, saying an explosion in Marmaris just after he had left the southern Turkish coastal town showed that the soldiers attempting the coup “thought I was there and they couldn’t track our movement”. Television images from the scene showed evidence of a fire and spent shells.
The attempted coup otherwise seemed limited to Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey’s two largest cities, while tens of thousands took to the streets elsewhere in the country. “It will end well,” Mr Erdogan promised the nation on television. “The most important thing right now is that millions of Turkish citizens are on the streets.”
In Istanbul, residents reported hours of shooting and explosions as soldiers tried to hold on to major thoroughfares and the two crucial Bosphorus bridges. The sound of gunshots, explosions and the sonic boom of fighter jets mingled with the call of muezzins urging citizens to the streets to fight off the uprising.
In Ankara, fighter jets during the night had screamed from Eskisehir Air Force base to shoot down what one MP described as “rogue aircraft in the sky”, while television access was cut off for most residents.
The situation in the city remained unclear on Saturday morning. Mr Dundar has been appointed as acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, an official said. And while Prime Minister Binali Yildirim asked for an emergency meeting of parliament, MPs contacted by the FT said they were still hiding in bunkers in the parliament building, and that they could hear regular gunshots.
Mr Erdogan accused Fethullah Gulen and the cleric’s supporters of masterminding the attempted coup. The president had once partnered with the influential imam in flushing out military officers suspected of disloyalty, but now reviles him and on Saturday challenged the 75-year-old to leave his compound in Pennsylvania and return to Turkey.
“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people. The president, whom 52 per cent of the people brought to power, is in charge. They won’t succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything,” he said.
Mr Yildirim told Anadolu that “things were improving.” A Turkish official said members of the Air Force and the Gendarmerie were involved in the attempted coup.
One western military observer in the capital said earlier: “The amount of military hardware we are seeing on the streets means that this is a very serious attempt. But we still don’t know how involved the entire military is.”
Mr Erdogan and his aides lined up support from almost all the opposition political groups, while allies of the crucial Nato nation voiced support for his government.
NTV reported that the chief of the general staff, Hulusi Akar, who heads the Turkish military and is considered close to Mr Erdogan, had been freed after being held captive for hours. A Turkish government official said Mr Akar remained in charge of the military.
Several hours earlier Mr Erdogan had made a television appearance from an unknown location using a mobile phone video camera to speak to a presenter at CNN-Turk. The private station was later taken off the air after military officials occupied the building.
The president had called on his supporters to take to the streets. “I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. There is no power higher than the power of the people,” he said.
He added that the “chain of command has been violated. This is a step against the higher ranks, and the judiciary will swiftly respond to this attack.”
Journalists at state-run TRT were expelled by men in military uniform during the uprising. One TRT journalist, who asked not to be named, said the station had been “evacuated by the military” when its news broadcast was about to begin shortly before 8pm GMT. “They confiscated everyone’s phone on the way out,” the reporter said.
The military has toppled Turkish governments at least three times since 1960. On Friday a previously unknown group called the Council for Peace in the Homeland said it had taken over the “administration of the country, to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged”.
But the identity of those in the military who had issued the statement remained unclear.
Anadolu this week reported that Turkish prosecutors were preparing to submit a formal request for Mr Gulen to the US justice department.
But in a statement on Friday night, Mr Gulen rejected the assertions that he had played a role and condemned the uprising.
“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,” said Mr Gulen, in an emailed statement.
“Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” he added.
Far from the chaos of Ankara and Istanbul, nestled in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, the brightly-lit double gated brick entrance of Mr Gulen’s spiritual and operational headquarters stands in contrast with the quaint and modest homes in the sleepy area where his centre is based.
The Financial Times attempted to visit the Golden Generation Worship & Retreat Center in the outskirts of rural Saylorsburg but was blocked by a security guard. A spokesperson told the FT: “Mr Gulen’s health is very fragile and I don’t believe there is any chance of him meeting with a reporter.”
Access to social media was cut off in various parts of Turkey. Access roads to Ataturk International Airport were blocked for a time, with flights diverted, but flights were landing again by Saturday morning.
In the Sishane district of central Istanbul, as news of the coup spread and troops took to the famous Taksim Square, people fled in droves, witnesses said.
“Everyone was running from Taksim,” said Hakkan, a security guard stationed outside an upmarket bar. “There was panic. People were going home, calling for taxis.”
There was little sign of exuberance at the apparent attempt to depose the president and his government. Many seemed resigned to yet another twist in a turbulent 12 months in Turkey marred by bombings and a fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We got used to crazy things,” said Ahmet, a waiter. He said that he wasn’t sure how to feel about the challenge to Mr Erdogan. “Whether you like him or not, he was democratically elected,” he said. “I don’t like him much but we don’t have a strong opposition. We will have to wait and see.”
Ismet, a hotel worker, said that he had voted for the ruling AKP multiple times, including at the last election in November, but said that “things have not been going so well” recently, citing a series of suicide attacks. He said that he trusted the army to protect the nation’s best interests.
Additional reporting Dan Dombey in London, Katherin Hille in Moscow, Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran, Stefan Wagstyl in Berlin, Eleftheria Kourtali in Athens, Joe Rennison and Ben McLannahan in New York, and James Fontanella-Khan and Adam Samson in Saylorsburg
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