ISTANBUL/ANKARA • Turkey has purged its police force after rounding up thousands of soldiers in the wake of a failed military coup, and said it could reconsider its friendship with the United States unless Washington hands over a cleric whom it blames for the putsch.
A senior security official told Reuters yesterday that 8,000 police officers, including in the capital Ankara and the country's biggest city Istanbul, had been removed from their posts on suspicion of links to the coup bid.
Work was under way to purge the civil service, with the annual leave of over three million civil servants nationwide suspended until further notice, according to a government order published yesterday.
The moves come after an abortive coup attempt by a faction of the army last Friday in which more than 200 people were killed.
The swift retribution for the coup bid, including calls to reinstate the death penalty for the plotters, drew concern from Western allies, who said Ankara must uphold the rule of law in the country. Turkey is a Nato member and Washington's most powerful Muslim ally.
Thousands of members of the armed forces, from foot soldiers to commanders, were rounded up on Sunday, some shown in photographs stripped to their underpants and handcuffed on the floors of police buses and a sports hall.
Several thousand prosecutors and judges have been removed. Thirty regional governors and over 50 high- ranking civil servants have also been dismissed, CNN Turk said. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 7,543 people had been detained so far, including 6,038 soldiers.
Turkey blames the failed coup on Mr Fethullah Gulen, a cleric based in the US who has a wide following in Turkey and denies involvement.
Ankara has demanded that Washington hand him over. Washington has said it is prepared to extradite him but only if Turkey provides evidence linking him to the crime. Mr Yildirim has rejected that term.
"We would be disappointed if our (US) friends told us to present proof even though members of the assassin organisation are trying to destroy an elected government under the directions of that person," he said. "At this stage, there could even be a questioning of our friendship."
Around 1,400 others were injured as soldiers commandeered tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets last Friday night in their bid to seize power, strafing Parliament and the intelligence headquarters and trying to seize the main airport and bridges in Istanbul.
Mr Yildirim said 232 people were killed in the ensuing violence, 208 of them civilians, policemen and loyalist soldiers, and the rest coup plotters. Officials previously said the overall death toll was over 290.
Amid the state of high tension, an unknown assailant shot the deputy mayor of Istanbul's opposition-run Sisli district in the head yesterday, leaving him in critical condition, Turkish broadcaster NTV reported. It was not immediately clear whether the assault on Mr Cemil Candas was linked to the coup.
The coup bid crumbled after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was on holiday at the coast, phoned in to a TV news programme and called for his followers to take to the streets. He was able to fly into Istanbul in the early hours last Saturday after rebel pilots had his plane in their sights but did not shoot it down.
On Sunday, he told crowds of supporters that Parliament must consider their demands to apply the death penalty for the plotters.
The bloodshed has shocked the nation of almost 80 million - where the army last used force to stage a successful coup over 30 years ago - and shattered fragile confidence in the stability of a country already rocked by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria suicide bombings and an insurgency by Kurdish militants.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE