Jubilation and retribution as Turkey coup is faced down

Turkish anti riot police officers escort Turkish soldiers who allegedly took part in a military coup as they leave court in Istanbul on July 16, 2016.
Turkish anti riot police officers escort Turkish soldiers who allegedly took part in a military coup as they leave court in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - It all started on Istanbul's iconic Bosphorus bridge, where camouflaged soldiers suddenly blocked the road, the first sign for residents something extraordinary was happening.

The rebels deployed with a quiet assurance that brought back dark memories of Turkey's previous military coups going back to the 1960s that had created little nostalgia.

Initially a ghostly calm descended over the city, with the confident manner of the soldiers giving rise to fears that the coup could succeed and Turkey could again be plunged into military rule.

 

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But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his supporters out into the streets, knowing he could tip the balance with popular mobilisation.

They massed in a huge crowd at Ataturk airport, which had been shut down by the putschists who stationed tanks outside.

The flooded into the terminal and then the VIP section where they were able to welcome Erdogan on his return by plane from an Aegean holiday resort, now confident and almost in triumph.

An AFP photographer then watched how a separate crowd advanced onto the Bosphorus bridge to challenge the heavily armed rebel soldiers. "It was strange, they were advancing so calm as if they had no fear," he said.

But very quickly, shots were fired from the side of the rebel soldiers and the demonstrators were hit.

Some of the wounded were evacuated by the crowds, one lay prostrate on the ground while his friends tried to reanimate him. A shell fell.

"There was even a sniper, perched on one of the struts of the bridge who was shooting on the protesters," said the photographer.

By the morning the rebels were forced to surrender, cautiously advancing with their hands raised above their heads.

Demonstrators then raced over the weapons and protective kit they had left behind, kicking them in a rage of disgust.

They jubilantly raced up the tanks waving Turkish flags, shouting "God is greatest" and making the Rabia four-fingered gesture of the Muslim Brotherhood of which Erdogan is so fond.

Similar scenes were in progress in Taksim Square in central Istanbul where protesters were doing everything they could to harass the tanks and show they were anything but welcome.

In Ankara, demonstrators hurled stones at one of the tanks, forcing it to withdraw by a few metres. Then the tank accelerated, completely crushing a car as it went by.

Shortly afterwards, the tank driver was forced to emerge from his turret and was immediately circled by protesters who spat a torrent of abuse at him.

The authorities have now arrested almost 3,000 suspects in the coup plot and many were seen being arrested roughly, stripped to the waist.

In Ankara, television pictures showed a group of soldiers forced to lie face down on the tarmac before being taken away for questioning.

The AFP photographer saw worse in Istanbul where a group of rebel soldiers were lynched before his eyes by angry protesters after being arrested.

"The people rushed at them, saying 'kill them in the name of God' hitting and even stabbing them," he said.

One of the rebels died on the spot. Another badly wounded, may or may not have survived. The attackers did not want witnesses and lashed out also at journalists recording the events.

But by Saturday, the tensions had relented and it was time for selfies and group portraits in front of the tanks. Tourists returned cautiously to Taksim, where the celebrations continued.