Turkey targets media in new crackdown after coup

A man waves Turkey's national flag as supporters of various political parties gather in Istanbul for an opposition-organised rally, July 24, 2016.
A man waves Turkey's national flag as supporters of various political parties gather in Istanbul for an opposition-organised rally, July 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish authorities on Monday (July 25) issued arrest warrants for over 40 journalists in a new phase of the controversial legal crackdown after the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sparking fresh alarm over the scope of the detentions.

With Erdogan seeking to rally national cross-party support for his rule 10 days after defeating the attempted putsch, he hosted two top opposition leaders for an unprecedented meeting at his presidential palace.

Over 13,000 people have been detained so far in a vast sweep in the wake of the July 15 military coup bid, which the authorities blame on the reclusive US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The crackdown has raised tensions with the European Union, further hampering Ankara's stalled membership bid, while a potential diplomatic crisis with Washington is looming if the United States refuses to extradite Gulen to Turkey, a fellow Nato member.

Istanbul anti-terror prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists as part of the coup investigation, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Among those targeted was prominent journalist Nazli Ilicak, who was fired from the pro-government Sabah daily in 2013 for criticising ministers caught up in a corruption scandal, it added.

Five people have been detained so far although 11 of the suspects are believed to already be outside the country, the Dogan news agency said.

Other prominent journalists hit with warrants include the commentator Bulent Mumay and the news editor of Fox TV in Turkey, Ercan Gun.

The French foreign ministry said Turkey's response to the coup "should not compromise the rule of law and fundamental liberties like freedom of the press".

Amnesty International said the overall crackdown was a "brazen purge based on political affiliation" and the latest detentions represented a "draconian clampdown on freedom of expression."

In new raids on Monday, police detained some 40 people at the army's military academy in Istanbul. Thirty-one academics, including professors, were detained in an operation in Istanbul over alleged links to Gulen, Dogan said.

Meanwhile, security forces detained seven fugitive soldiers on the southern Aegean coast on suspicion of taking part in an attack on the hotel where Erdogan stayed during the failed coup.

Described by Turkish media as an "assassination squad", they had evaded arrest for days by hiding in the caves and hills above the resort of Marmaris.

With the backlash against the coup affecting all aspects of life in Turkey, Turkish Airlines said it had fired 211 employees over suspected links to Gulen and behaviour "conflicting with the interest of our country".

Turkey has undergone a seismic shift since the night of violence when renegade soldiers sought to topple Erdogan but were stopped by crowds of civilians and loyalist security forces. At least 270 people were killed on both sides.

Erdogan last week announced a three-month state of emergency that has caused alarm in the EU, while suggestions Ankara might reinstate capital punishment for the plotters have created new uncertainty about its long running bid to join the bloc.

The government says the stringent measures are needed to clear out the influence of Gulen from Turkey's institutions, claiming he has created a "parallel state" inside Turkey.

Gulen - who lives in a compound in rural Pennsylvania and whose foundation runs a global network of schools, charities and media interests - has strongly denied the accusations.

Chief of staff Hulusi Akar, who resisted the coup and was held hostage by the plotters, told investigators in a statement that rebel generals had offered to speak personally with Gulen if he joined them.

"I told them 'you are on the wrong path'. I said 'don't do it, don't spill blood'," he was quoted as saying "But (rebel General) Mehmet Disli said 'we have taken that path. There is no going back'." Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds the majority in parliament, met with Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chief Devlet Bahceli.

The meeting at the presidential palace was the first of its kind during Erdogan's term in office.

The fact the encounter took place was a major turnaround in the polarised world of Turkish politics, in particular for Kilicdaroglu who had vowed never to set foot in Erdogan's new palace, which he had denounced as illegal.

"It was a positive meeting for contributing to the normalisation" after the coup, the CHP said in a statement after the two-hour-forty minute meeting.

The CHP had on Sunday called a mass rally in Istanbul's Taksim Square and, to signal a united stand against the coup plotters, the demonstration was also backed by Erdogan's AKP.

However, in a sign that the harmony is not complete, the head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas was not invited to the palace talks.