Turkish officials say coup plotters being arrested


ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the nation Saturday that his government was working to crush a coup attempt after a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire across the capital that left at least 17 dead and scores wounded.

Government officials said the coup appeared to have failed as Turks took to the streets overnight to confront troops attempting to take over the country. However, the sounds of huge blasts continued to ring out in the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul throughout the morning, including a bomb that hit the parliament complex.

Speaking on national television from Istanbul, Erdogan said the government was arresting coup supporters in the military and “they will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey,” according to a transcript of his remarks provided by 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.”

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency, said more than 120 arrests were made.

Erdogan, who said his general secretary had been abducted by the coup plotters, flew into Istanbul’s Ataturk airport early Saturday and was greeted by large crowds. Hours earlier, as the coup attempt got under way, his office had declined to say where he was, and he was forced to give an interview over FaceTime to a television station.

The chaos capped a period of political turmoil in Turkey blamed on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, which has included a government shake up, a crackdown on dissidents and opposition media and renewed conflict in the mainly Kurdish areas of the southeast.

Turkey, a NATO member, is a key partner in U.S.-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State group, and has allowed American jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against the extremists in nearby Syria and Iraq. A coup against the democratically elected government could make it difficult for the United States to continue to cooperate with Turkey.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged all sides in Turkey to support the democratically elected government. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and called for respect for democracy.

The coup attempt began late Friday, with a statement from the military saying it had seized control “to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for law and order to be reinstated.”

Fighter jets buzzed overhead, gunfire erupted outside military headquarters and vehicles blocked two major bridges in Istanbul. Soldiers blocked entry to Istanbul’s airport, where four tanks were stationed, according to the private Dogan news agency. Two other tanks and a military vehicle were stationed in front of the VIP terminal. Dogan said the soldiers had entered the tower and stopped all flights.

But the military did not appear unified, with top commanders taking to television to condemn the action and order troops back to their barracks.

“Those who are attempting a coup will not succeed. Our people should know that we will overcome this,” Gen. Zekai Aksakalli, the commander of the military special forces, told the private NTV television by telephone.

Fighter jets under the control of loyalist forces were flying over the capital to strike at helicopters flown by coup supporters, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Private NTV television reported that one helicopter was shot down. Gunfire and explosions rang out.

Erdogan called on Turks to take to the streets across the country, and many did, marching through the streets of Izmir and Istanbul, waving Turkish flags and gathering in the main square in Ankara. The Dogan news agency reported that soldiers fired on a group of people trying to cross the Bosporus bridge to protest the attempted coup, and that some people have been hurt. TV footage showed people running for cover as shots rang out.

Troops also fired in the air to disperse a growing crowd of government supporters at the Taksim monument in Istanbul as military helicopters flew overhead. A nearby mosque made an anti-coup announcement over its loudspeakers.

During the fighting, 17 police officers were killed in a helicopter attack on police special forces headquarters on the outskirts of Ankara, Anadolu said.

An official at Haydarpasa Numune Hospital in Istanbul said at least 150 people were admitted with wounds, but would not comment on whether there were fatalities. NTV reported six dead had been brought to that hospital. An official at Istanbul’s Sisli Hamidiye Etfal Training and Research Hospital said they had also received dead and wounded. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to comment publicly.

Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman said a bomb hit one corner of a public relations building inside the parliament complex, injuring some police officers.

By Saturday morning, a top Turkish official said the coup attempt appeared to have been repelled. The senior official told The Associated Press that all government officials were in charge of their offices. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Earlier, Nuh Yilmaz, a spokesman for Turkish National Intelligence told CNN Turk the coup attempt had been quashed, adding that military chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar was back in control. However, Erdogan raised doubts about that during his address, saying, “I don’t know what the situation is concerning our chief of military staff.”

As the crisis unfolded, there were reports that access to popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook had been blocked within the country. Facebook declined comment, but Twitter said it suspected “intentional” interference with its service.

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Soguel reported from Istanbul. Emrah Gurel and Cinar Kiper also contributed from Istanbul.

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