Turkish authorities wrested back control of the country today, after crushing a military coup by discontented soldiers seeking to seize power from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that claimed more than 250 lives.
After facing down the bloodiest challenge to his 13-year rule, Erdogan triumphantly addressed thousands of supporters in his home Istanbul district after Friday’s chaos in the strategic NATO member of 80 million people.
The authorities blamed Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric who is Erdogan’s arch enemy, for the plot and lost no time in rounding up 2,839 soldiers over alleged involvement, amid concerns over the extent of the retribution.
Turks woke up early on Saturday to television pictures showing dozens of soldiers surrendering after the failed coup, some with their hands above their head, others forced to the ground in the streets.
“The situation is completely under control,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said outside his Ankara offices, flanked by Turkey’s top general who had himself been taken hostage by the plotters.
Describing the attempted coup as a “black stain” on Turkey’s democracy, Yildirim said 161 people had been killed in the night of violence and 1,440 wounded.
General Umit Dundar, who stood in as acting chief of staff while Hulusi Akar was being held by the rebels, said 104 coup plotters have been killed. Akar was later rescued in an operation that marked the end of the plotters’ hopes.
During a night where power hung in the balance, large crowds of flag-waving supporters of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) defied the coup leaders’ orders of a curfew and flooded the streets to block the attempt to overthrow the regime.
“We should keep on owning the streets tonight no matter at what stage (the coup attempt is) because a new flare-up could take place at any moment,” Erdogan warned on Twitter on Saturday.
Friday’s putsch bid began with rebel F-16 jets screaming low over rooftops in Ankara, soldiers and tanks taking to the streets and multiple explosions throughout the night in the capital as well as the biggest city Istanbul.
Parts of parliament were turned to rubble after being hit by air strikes from rebel jets.
Rebel troops also moved to block the two bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, culminating in a stand-off with an angry crowd.
Turks have not seen such scenes since 1980 when the military led by general Kenan Evren ousted the government and many had no desire to revive these memories.
As protesters poured onto the streets, an AFP photographer saw troops open fire on people gathered near one of the bridges, leaving dozens wounded.
Soldiers also shot at protesters angrily denouncing the coup bid at Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square, injuring several. There was chaos in the city as angry crowds jeered the passing tanks, with much smaller numbers welcoming the troops.
US President Barack Obama stressed the “vital need” for all parties to “act within the rule of law” as Turkey rounded up the coup plotters.