Turkish soldiers are seen on the Asian side of Istanbul, Friday, July 15, 2016. A group within Turkey's military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told NTV television: "it is correct that there was an attempt," when asked if there was a coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
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ANKARA – A group within Turkey’s military has attempted to overthrow the government and security forces have been called in to “do what is necessary”, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on people to ‘take to the streets’ following an apparent coup attempt by some members of the Turkish military on Friday.
If successful, the overthrow of President Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would amount to one of the biggest shifts in power in the Middle East in years.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the elected government remained in office. There was no immediate word from Erdogan. The Turkish sister channel of CNN said he was “safe”.
“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV.
“The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”
And Yildirim said those responsible for what he described as an attempted coup by a faction within the military on Friday would “pay the highest price”.
An attempted Turkish military coup appeared to crumble in the early hours of Saturday after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets to support him.
Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and was shown on TV appearing among a crowd of supporters outside the airport, which the coup plotters had failed to secure.
The uprising was an “act of treason”, and those responsible would pay a heavy price, he later told reporters at a hastily arranged news conference. Arrests of officers were under way, and it would go higher up the ranks, culminating in the cleansing of the military.
Gunfire and explosions had rocked both the main city Istanbul and capital Ankara in a chaotic night after soldiers took up positions in both cities and ordered state television to read out a statement declaring they had taken power.
But by early Saturday, Reuters journalists saw around 30 pro-coup soldiers surrender their weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul’s central Taksim square.
They were taken away in police vans as a fighter jet repeatedly screeched overhead at low altitude, causing a boom that shook surrounding buildings and shattered windows.
Before returning to Istanbul, Erdogan appeared in a video call to the studio of the Turkish sister channel of CNN, where an announcer held up a mobile phone to the camera to show him. He called on Turks to take to the streets to defend his government and said the coup plotters would pay a heavy price.
By the early hours of Saturday morning, lawmakers were still hiding in shelters inside the parliament building in Ankara, which had been fired on by tanks. Smoke rose up from nearby, Reuters witnesses said. An opposition MP told Reuters parliament was hit three times and that people had been wounded.
A Turkish military commander said fighter jets had shot down a helicopter used by the coup plotters over Ankara. State-run Anadolu news agency said 17 police were killed at special forces headquarters there.
As the night wore on, momentum turned against the coup plotters. Crowds defied orders to stay indoors, gathering at major squares in Istanbul and Ankara, waving flags and chanting.
“We have a prime minister, we have a chief of command, we’re not going to leave this country to degenerates,” shouted one man, as groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
Erdogan and other officials blamed loyalists of a U.S.-based cleric for the coup attempt; his movement denied any part in it.
In the meantime, the United States declared its firm backing for Erdogan’s government. Secretary of State John Kerry said he phoned the Turkish foreign minister and emphasized “absolute support for Turkey’s democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions”.
The coup began with warplanes and helicopters roaring over Ankara and troops moving in to seal off the bridges over the Bosphorus that link Europe and Asia in Istanbul.
Reuters reporters saw a helicopter open fire in Ankara. Anadolu said military helicopters had fired on the headquarters of the intelligence agency.
In the first hours of the coup attempt, airports were shut and access to internet social media sites was cut off.
Soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law. An announcer read a statement on the orders of the military that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. The country would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.
Shortly afterwards, TRT went off the air. It resumed broadcasting in the early hours of Saturday.