Turkey to disband presidential guard

Presidential guardsmen at a rally to mark the 563rd anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul by Ottoman Turks in May this year. Of the regiment's 2,500 members, 300 were arrested over suspected links to last week's failed coup. Figures close to Mr Fet
Presidential guardsmen at a rally to mark the 563rd anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul by Ottoman Turks in May this year. Of the regiment's 2,500 members, 300 were arrested over suspected links to last week's failed coup. Figures close to Mr Fethullah Gulen, the cleric Turkey says is behind the coup, were also detained.PHOTO: REUTERS

PM says 'no need' for the unit after 300 members arrested over suspected coup links

ISTANBUL • Turkey's elite presidential guard is to be disbanded after nearly 300 of its members were detained after last week's failed coup.

After rounding up nearly 300 officers of the regiment over suspected links to the coup, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced last Saturday that Turkey planned to disband the 2,500-strong unit, saying that there was "no need" for it.

The Turkish authorities also detained a nephew of Mr Fethullah Gulen, the United States-based Muslim cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the July 15 coup attempt, the Anadolu state news agency reported.

Critics of Mr Erdogan fear he is using the abortive coup to wage an indiscriminate crackdown on dissent... But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, speaking at a meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers in China last Saturday, said Turkey would strongly adhere to democratic principles and the rule of law.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the closure of thousands of private schools, charities and other institutions in his first decree since imposing a state of emergency after the failed military coup.

The decree also extended the period in which some suspects can be detained from four days to a maximum of 30 days.

Parliament must still approve the decree, but requires only a simple majority, which the government has.

The schools and other institutions are suspected by Turkish authorities of having links to Mr Gulen, who has many followers in Turkey.

His nephew, Mr Muhammed Sait Gulen, was detained in the north-eastern city of Erzurum and will be taken to the capital Ankara for questioning, Anadolu reported.

Among possible charges that could be brought against him is membership of a terror organisation, it said.

It is the first time a relative of Mr Gulen has been reported to be detained since the failed coup.

Turkey has also captured a key aide to Mr Gulen, an official from the presidency said.

Mr Halis Hanci, described as the cleric's right-hand man, apparently entered Turkey two days before the abortive coup, the official told reporters.

A pilot who bombed the special forces command in Ankara and killed 42 police officers was also caught in Turkey, said the official.

Mr Gulen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Critics of Mr Erdogan fear he is using the abortive coup to wage an indiscriminate crackdown on dissent.

The foundations targeted include, for example, the Association of Judges and Prosecutors, a secular group that criticised a recent judicial law drafted by Mr Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party.

But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, speaking at a meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers in China last Saturday, said Turkey would strongly adhere to democratic principles and the rule of law.

In Ankara, Turkish Minister for European Union affairs Omer Celik chided Western countries for not sending any representatives to demonstrate their solidarity with Turks since the coup attempt.

"We are very surprised that our allies have not come to Turkey to visit even after one week has passed," he said, adding that Mr Gulen was more dangerous than either late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Mr Celik insisted that Turkey remained committed to its long-term bid to join the European Union, and would honour a landmark deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

"We don't believe this is the end of the road, it is time to start brand-new momentum," he told reporters in Ankara.

Meanwhile, Turkey readied yesterday for its first cross-party rally against the coup attempt.

The mass rally, to be held under tight security in Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square, was called by the biggest opposition group, the secular and centre-left Republican People's Party.

But in a show of patriotic post-coup unity, it will be joined by Mr Erdogan's ruling AK Party, whose followers have festooned city squares with seas of Turkish flags every night since the failed coup.

The mass event, expected to be boosted by free public transport in the city of 15 million, will seek to soothe divisions after the shock of the July 15 coup and the subsequent government crackdown.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Turkey to disband presidential guard'. Print Edition | Subscribe