ANKARA, Turkey, July 16 (UPI) — Turkish government officials declared an attempted military coup in the country had been put down as nearly 3,000 soldiers were arrested and 265 people, including civilians and coup plotters, were killed.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke publicly Saturday, less than 24 hours after the military coup was squashed, saying the government remained in control after rival factions of the Turkish military attempted to forcibly seize power of government buildings in Ankara and Istanbul.
Several explosions were reported near the Parliament building and pro-coup soldiers briefly held control of two bridges over the Bosporus in Istanbul. In Ankara, the capital, a military helicopter was used to help stage the coup. It was later shot down by members of the Turkish Air Force loyal to the government.
Citizens opposed to the coup took to the streets in both cities. In Istanbul, they swarmed soldiers with Army tanks, Al Jazeera reported, fighting to take back the bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the portion of Turkey on the European continent with the larger section in Asia.
Military members also targeted independent and state-sponsored television networks, forcing CNN Turkey and the state-sponsored TRT news organization off the air. An anchor for TRT said she was threatened at gunpoint to read a pro-coup message on the air. CNN Turkey said pro-coup soldiers stormed their studio, forcing an end to their broadcast for several hours during the height of the unrest. The soldiers were later arrested by police.
As the dust settled, the president sought to project calm and control, stating the coup was over and had failed.
“In Turkey the army is not governing the state and they cannot, and this should be known by all,” said Erdogan, who was vacationing in southwest Turkey when the coup began,according to USA Today. “The government is in control.”
Later Saturday, Erdogan spoke publicly and encouraged Turks of all political parties to rally together to send a message of solidarity. Tens of thousands responded at rallies in cities across the country, clad in red and waving Turkish flags.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim called the attempt a “stain in the history of democracy,” according to The New York Times. He said 2,839 soldiers were arrested.
As the coup began unfolding Friday night, Erdogan made a dramatic address to the nation via the Facetime application on a cellphone from an undisclosed location, urging Turks to take to the streets to defend the democratically elected government. Erdogan then went silent for several hours before returning to the capital in the early morning as it became increasingly clear the coup attempt would end in failure.
Erdogan blamed the coup on a “parallel structure,” a term used by the government to reference followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan demanded the United States extradite Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for 16 years, to Turkey to face prosecution for his alleged role in the failed takeover.
Gulen denied any involvement, saying he condemned “in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey.”
U.S. officials have yet to respond as to whether Gulen will be turned over to Turkish authorities.
Erdogan also said that “rogue elements” in the military involved in the coup would “pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey” and “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.”
The BBC reported Greek police said a military helicopter carrying eight men, mostly in military uniforms and believed to be part of the coup, landed in the country seeking asylum.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey demanded the “eight treacherous officers who fled to Greece by helicopter” be extradited.
Greece arrested the eight men after they landed and an official said they will appear before a Greek prosecutor on Sunday.
Turkish television reported about 2,745 judges and five High Judiciary Court Board were removed from duty as a result of the failed coup.
It was also reported that soldiers who had taken over the Chief of General Staff Headquarters during the coup requested negotiations to surrender.
“I have spoken to SACEUR Gen Scaparrotti. He confirms that all NATO personnel and units in Turkey are safe and secure,” he wrote.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance between the United States, Canada and most European nations.
Turkey has proven an important ally to the Unites States in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State. Incirlik Air Base near the Syrian border has served as a launching point for bombing runs against the Islamic State. The base was closed to U.S. operations Friday night as the government sought to gain control of its airspace as the coup unfolded. A U.S. military official said the Turkish government was working to restart military operations as quickly as possible to prevent the coup attempt from hampering efforts to quell the Islamic State’s operations in Syria and Iraq.