Turkey rebuffs EU on death penalty, as Erdogan calls for ‘new blood’ in army

US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to journalists at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, on July 16, 2016.
US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to journalists at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, on July 16, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey rebuffed the European Union on Friday (July 22) over the death penalty, while President Tayyip Erdogan vowed to restructure the military and give it “fresh blood”, signalling the scope of a shake-up yet to come under a state of emergency imposed after last week's failed coup.  

Meanwhile, commercial electric power was restored on Friday to a Turkish air base used by US forces in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a week after it was interrupted during the attempted military coup.

There is growing worry in the West about Turkey’s widening crackdown against thousands of members of the security forces, judiciary, civil service and academia after the abortive coup. On Wednesday Erdogan announced a state of emergency, a move he said would allow the government to take swift action against coup plotters.  

The possibility of Turkey bringing back capital punishment for the plotters of the attempted coup that killed more than 246 people and wounded more than 2,100 has put further strain on Ankara’s relationship with the EU, which it seeks to join.  

Turkey outlawed capital punishment in 2004 as part of its bid to join the bloc and European officials have said backtracking on the death penalty would effectively put an end to the EU accession process.

Erdogan says the death penalty may need to be brought back, citing the calls for it from crowds of supporters at rallies.

 

“People demand the death penalty and that demand will surely be assessed. We have to assess that demand from the standpoint on law, and not according to what the EU says,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told broadcaster CNN Turk.  

His comments are likely to spark further unease in the West, where there is growing worry about instability and human rights in the country of 80 million, which plays an important part in the US-led fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and in the European Union’s efforts to stem the flow of refugees from Syria.  

Erdogan accuses Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic US-based cleric, of masterminding the plot against him, which crumbled early on Saturday. In a crackdown on Gulen’s suspected followers, more than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or placed under investigation.  

Bozdag said that armed Gulen supporters had infiltrated the judiciary, universities and the media, as well as the armed forces. 

Erdogan told Reuters late on Thursday he would restructure the military and give it “fresh blood”, citing the threat of the Gulen movement, which he likened to a cancer.  

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States for years, has denied any role in the attempted putsch, and accused Erdogan of orchestrating the coup himself. Turkey wants the US to extradite the cleric. Washington says Turkey must give clear evidence first. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday the US does not need to take years to extradite Gulen.

"If you want to draw out the Gulen extradition issue it can take years but if you are decisive it can be completed in a short period," Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT Haber.

Cavusoglu said the United States had proposed setting up a commission to discuss the Gulen extradition issue and said Turkey was ready to take part. He also said Gulen should not be allowed to flee to another country in the meantime.

The foreign minister also urged Athens to deport to Turkey soldiers involved in the coup attempt who fled to Greece after it collapsed.

SUPREME COUNCIL

Erdogan said the government’s Supreme Military Council, which is chaired by the prime minister, and includes the defence minister and the chief of staff, would oversee the restructuring of the armed forces. 

“They are all working together as to what might be done, and ... within a very short amount of time a new structure will be emerging. With this new structure, I believe the armed forces will get fresh blood,” Erdogan said.  

Speaking at his palace in Ankara, which was targeted during the coup attempt, he said a new putsch was possible but would not be easy because authorities were now more vigilant. 

“It is very clear that there were significant gaps and deficiencies in our intelligence, there is no point trying to hide it or deny it,” Erdogan told Reuters.  Erdogan also said there was no obstacle to extending the state of emergency beyond the initial three months – a comment likely to spark concern among critics already fearful about the pace of his crackdown. 

Emergency powers allow the government to take swift measures against supporters of the coup.  Emergency rule will also permit the president and Cabinet to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary.  

Germany called for the measure to end as quickly as possible. An international lawyers’ group warned Turkey against using it to subvert the rule of law and human rights, pointing to allegations of torture and ill-treatment of people held in the mass roundup.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the reaction to the coup must not undermine fundamental rights. “What we’re seeing especially in the fields of universities, media, the judiciary, is unacceptable,” she said of detentions and dismissals of judges, academics and journalists.

For some Turks, the state of emergency raised fears of a return to the days of martial law after a 1980 military coup, or the height of a Kurdish insurgency in the 1990s when much of the largely Kurdish southeast was under a state of emergency. 

Opposition parties which stood with the authorities against the coup expressed concern that the state of emergency could concentrate too much power in the hands of Erdogan, whose rivals have long accused him of suppressing free speech. 

Erdogan, an Islamist, has led Turkey as prime minister or president since 2003. 

“We will continue the fight ... wherever they might be. These people have infiltrated the state organisation in this country and they rebelled against the state,” he said, calling the actions of Friday night “inhuman” and “immoral”.  

Around a third of Turkey’s roughly 360 serving generals have been detained since the coup attempt, a senior official said, with 99 charged pending trial and 14 more being held.  

The Defence Ministry is investigating all military judges and prosecutors, and has suspended 262 of them, broadcaster NTV reported, while 900 police officers in the capital, Ankara, were also suspended on Wednesday. 

The purge also extended to civil servants in the environment and sports ministries. 

The state of emergency went into effect after parliament formally approved the measure on Thursday. 

POWER BACK AT AIR BASE USED BY US

US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, meanwhile said in a statement on Friday that commercial electric power was restored to Incirlik Air Base, and “there is a steady flow of hot food, water and fuel to support our service members and civilians in Turkey.”

The Turkish base, which is also used by several thousand US personnel, had been operating on generator backup power since July 16. Backup generators remain an option if the base loses commercial power again, the European Command statement said.

European Command said the US and Turkish militaries were working to ensure the base remained “fully prepared to take on a myriad of missions as we work together to defeat terrorism.”

The air space around Incirlik was closed during the attempted coup amid concerns a tanker aircraft commandeered from the base was used to refuel aircraft involved in the attempted overthrow.  

The Turkish commander of the base was detained for complicity, a senior official said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said some troops at the base were involved in the attempted coup.  The air space around the base quickly reopened in the days after the attempted coup so that US warplanes involved in the fight against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria could continue their operations.