Members of the police special forces stand guard in front of the Air Force Academy in Istanbul, Turkey, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
Police special forces guard the Air Force Academy in Istanbul on Monday © Reuters

US and European leaders have warned Turkey’s president to use restraint in his increasingly wide-reaching crackdown against plotters of Friday’s coup amid widespread alarm at the speed of arrests of senior military and members of the judiciary.

“We urge the government of Turkey to uphold the highest standard of respect . . . for the rule of law,” John Kerry, US secretary of state, said after meeting his EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday. “We support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice, but we caution a reach that goes beyond that.”

Some EU leaders went still further. The European Commission official responsible for Turkey policy accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of having a prepared list of targets for arrest even before the coup was launched.

“It looks at least as if something has been prepared,” said Johannes Hahn, the commissioner in charge of Turkey’s EU membership bid. “The lists are available, which indicates it was prepared and to be used at a certain stage. I’m very concerned. It is exactly what we feared.”

The expressions of concern in Washington and Brussels came as the number of officials and soldiers arrested by Mr Erdogan’s allies continued to rise. Binali Yildirim, the president’s handpicked prime minister, announced on Monday that 7,543 people had now been detained, including 6,138 from the military, 755 prosecutors and 650 civilians.

Turkey’s state-run news agency said more than 100 generals and admirals had been detained. It quoted the interior ministry as saying that 8,777 employees had been suspended — including police officers and the governors of 30 of the country’s 81 provinces.

“We cannot accept a military dictatorship but we also have to be careful that the Turkish authorities do not put in place a political system which turns away from democracy,” said Jean-Marc Ayrault, French foreign minister.

A spokesman for Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, also warned Mr Erdogan that acceding to widespread demands from supporters to reinstate the death penalty for the plotters would end the country’s EU accession hopes.

Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004, clearing the way for the country to start the formal process of EU accession negotiations.

There was no immediate response from Ankara to the EU warnings about the death penalty. But senior Turkish officials reacted angrily to accusations that they were overreacting to the plot.

One official said critics were “ignoring the fact that the parliament was hit 11 times by hijacked F-16s” and had taken the Turkish president’s remarks that the coup “was a gift from God” out of context.

Turkish officials said Mr Erdogan’s narrow escape from the plotters was a clear sign he in no way sought the coup as a way to cleanse the Turkish state of his political enemies. They said rebel pilots had targeted Mr Erdogan’s plane as he returned to Istanbul from the coastal resort of Marmaris, where he had been on holiday, but did not open fire. A senior Turkish official also claimed Mr Erdogan missed an earlier assassination attempt in Marmaris by minutes.

However, opponents say the failed coup has provided an opportunity for Mr Erdogan to launch purges unrelated to the plotters. They point to the speed with which 2,745 judges were removed from their jobs on Saturday as well as the large numbers of people detained and arrested.

More than 290 people were killed and 1,400 wounded in the abortive uprising on Friday night and Saturday. Mr Yildirim said 145 civilians had been killed, as well as 60 police and three soldiers putting down the plot.

Mr Erdogan has blamed Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Muslim cleric now living in rural Pennsylvania, for inspiring the attempted overthrow of Turkey’s government. Tensions with Washington have mounted as the Obama administration has resisted calls by Mr Erdogan’s allies to extradite Mr Gulen without a formal extradition request.

“The US is a friend and an ally. The coup attempt is the best evidence in itself [for Gulen’s extradition],” said Mr Yildirim. “We’d be disappointed if friends still ask for proof. We’d reconsider our friendship.”

Turkish officials said suspects had been rounded up based on prior, ongoing investigations, which revealed connections to the core group of coup plotters, and on lists of new appointees that the putschists had distributed in the early hours of the plot being launched — including new military appointees, governors of provinces, and even a new central bank governor.

The officials acknowledged that the authorities have been looking into the activities of the Gulen movement for some time. “We did so publicly and openly due to the seriousness of the allegations. The cell within the military was part of this investigation,” a Turkish official said.

He said Gulen loyalists had been penetrating the civilian and military bureaucracy for years. “I understand that the numbers seem excessive but right now, this is about preventing the next wave of attacks against civilians and government buildings,” the official added.

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