ANKARA, Turkey, July 15 (UPI) — Civil unrest took hold in the streets of Turkey late Friday after members of the nation’s military attempted to forcibly seize power in a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s regime.
The coup attempt occurred in the capital, Ankara, and in Istanbul around 10 p.m. local time Friday — plunging the nation into a chaotic power grab for control of Turkey’s government
Hours into the overthrow attempt, both sides claimed the upper hand in the struggle.
“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in comments broadcast on Turkish television. “The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 15, 2016
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Turkish military officials, however, sounded as if their coup attempt was successful — saying in a statement that they seized power to maintain democratic order and human rights.
“Turkish armed forces seized the rule of the country completely with the aim of reinstalling the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to make rule of law pervade again, to re-establish the ruined public order,” the military said in a statement. “All the international agreements and promises are valid. We hope our good relations with all global countries goes on.”
Claims of victory on the military side were deflected by at least one member of Erdogan’s inner circle.
“Is [the coup] anywhere near being successful? I don’t think so,” Ilnur Cevik, an Erdogan aide, said. “Right now, there is a lot of confusion.”
“We’re not really sure what’s going on,” he added.
The sounds of gunfire and military jets screaming overhead permeated Ankara and Istanbul, witnesses said. News reports said the military also took control of a television station.
Two Istanbul bridges were closed off by armed forces and tanks blocked the entrance to the city’s Ataturk International Airport, where flights were uniformly canceled. The military also reportedly declared martial law.
Late Friday, officials said a bomb attack was launched at the parliament building in Ankara, injuring multiple police officers and state workers.
Also, Turkish media reported, several police officers were killed and others wounded in a military helicopter attack on the headquarters of police special forces, near Ankara. Turkish Air Force jets were dispatched to shoot down attack aircraft that were manned by pro-coup forces, USA Today reported, and at least one chopper was shot down by a Turkish F-16.
Friday evening, Obama spoke to Secretary of State John Kerry about the coup attempt and the two leaders agreed that Turkish citizens should support Erdogan’s regime, since it remains the authentic result of the country’s 2014 democratic election, the White House said in a statement.
U.S. Department of State/Facebook
In a statement late Friday, Kerry said the United States has “the gravest concern’ about the attempted Turkish coup.
“I spoke this evening to [Turkish] Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and emphasized the United States’ absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions,” he said. “We urge all parties to ensure the safety and well-being of diplomatic missions and personnel and civilians throughout Turkey.
“Our Embassy and Consulates in Turkey continue to provide updates to U.S. citizens in Turkey. U.S. citizens should shelter in place and stay indoors; and update family and friends of status when possible.”
Earlier, Kerry’s department issued a warning to American citizens in the country.
“We urge U.S. citizens to contact family and friends to let them know you are safe,” it read. “We encourage U.S. citizens to shelter in place and do not go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulates at this time.”
Government officials said Erdogan was in a secure location, and some news outlets reported that the Turkish president might be seeking asylum in Germany.
— Ned Price (@Price44) July 15, 2016
On Turkish television, Erdogan urged citizens to take to the streets to demonstrate their support of the government.
“I’ve never seen anything more powerful than the people,” he said.
Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, but has held the title of president since only 2014 when Ankara held its first democratic presidential election.
It wasn’t entirely clear late Friday whether the coup attempt was mounted by the Turkish military as a whole, or small factions of the country’s armed forces. Erdogan indicated in his remarks that it was an “attempt at an uprising by a minority within [Turkey’s] armed forces.”
Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on followers of a former ally, Fethullah Gulen, who’s a Muslim cleric now living in the United States. The two had a public and bitter falling out in 2013.
Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, has been a powder keg of instability in recent months as the government has tried to suppress ongoing terrorism and civil unrest, and strike a harmonic chord among its somewhat divided population.
“[Erdogan] has destroyed this country and no one will stand up to him but the military,” Turkish citizen Cem Yildiz said. “There was no choice but this.”