Turkey on Saturday initiated a sweeping crackdown against suspected plotters of its failed coup, telling EU critics that it had no choice but to root out hidden enemies.
Using new emergency powers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Cabinet decreed that police could now hold suspects for one month without charge and announced that it would shut down more than 1,000 private schools that it says are subversive.
A week after renegade soldiers tried to oust him with guns, tanks and F-16s, Erdogan’s government has detained more than 13,000 people it suspects are state enemies, mainly soldiers and also police, judges, teachers and civil servants.
After rounding up nearly 300 officers of the presidential guard over suspected links to the coup, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced that Turkey planned to disband the 2,500-strong unit, saying there was “no need” for the elite regiment.
As part of the mass arrests, police also detained a nephew of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, 75, whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the July 15 putsch and whose followers it labels a “terrorist” group.
Senior Gulen aide Hails Hanci was also arrested, a Turkish official said, describing him as a “right-hand man” to Gulen and responsible for transferring funds to the exiled preacher.
Fears that Erdogan will seek to further cement his rule and muzzle dissent through repression have strained ties with Western NATO allies and cast a shadow over Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that “a country that jails its own university professors and journalists imprisons its future.”
Turkish EU Minister Omer Celik said that European leaders do not appreciate the scale of the threat and lamented that none had come to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkey’s leaders after the bloodshed of July 15.
“Come here and see how serious this is,” Celik told a foreign media briefing.
He said that Gulen was more dangerous than either the al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden or Islamic State group militants.
Celik said that Turkey, despite the turmoil, remained committed to its long-term bid to join the EU and would honor a landmark deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
“We don’t believe this is the end of the road, it is time to start brand-new momentum,” Celik told reporters in Ankara when asked if the EU membership bid was still a strategic aim.
Erdogan struck a darker tone, telling France 24 television that “for the past 53 years, Europe has been making us wait,” and that no EU candidate country “has had to suffer like we have had to suffer.”
He rejected the European criticism of his response to the coup, saying that “they are biased, they are prejudiced and they will continue to act in this prejudiced manner towards Turkey.”
Ankara has insisted that the measures would not add up to an attack on democracy, saying that they were no different to those France had taken after a series of attacks.
Turkey for the first time since the coup released a large group of detainees, 1,200 low-ranking soldiers, saying it wanted to swiftly sort out those who had fired on the people from those who had not.
The crackdowns are part of seismic changes that have rocked Turkey since the shock of the coup attempt that claimed 270 lives.
The night of violence left 24 rebel soldiers dead, as well as 246 now hailed as “martyrs” — 179 civilians, 62 police and five loyalist soldiers.
Since the coup, massive crowds of flag-waving Erdogan supporters have taken to the streets night after night to celebrate their leader.
Rights activists and opposition groups, including from Turkey’s Kurdish minority, fear a widening witch hunt of government critics.
“To fight against the coup is just, legitimate and justified,” said Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
He warned that the new measures “pave the way for more injustice, will increase pressure on society,” adding that the new 30-day pre-charge detention “amounts to a torture in itself.”
As part of the crackdown, more than 1,000 private schools and more than 1,200 associations and foundations believed to be linked to Gulen are to be closed.
Amid the turmoil, strains have also grown with the US — which relies on Turkish bases to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq — as Erdogan has repeatedly demanded it extradite Gulen.
US President Barack Obama on Friday said that the US would take seriously any “evidence” of wrongdoing by the preacher.
He also flatly rejected claims that the US had prior intelligence of the putsch attempt, calling such suggestions “unequivocally false.”
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