Saturday, 16 July 2016

Coup attempt in Turkey fails

LATEST - 6pm - Social media is now showing soldiers abandoning their posts along Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge while pro-government forces have recaptured broadcaster stations.

As dawn rises over Turkey, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears to have the initiative in pushing back against coup positions in both Ankara and Istanbul. Although the plotters were able to briefly occupy state media stations - a critical component of any successful coup attempt - they lost control of those buildings early in the morning.

And despite the obvious planning and coordination (exactly how the plotters managed to remain undetected is something the government will have to investigate in coming weeks) the coup leaders were unable to capture Mr Erdoğan. In the confuson, the president was reported to be in four places at once, but was actually resided at a seaside resort on the Aegean at the time of first action.

Pro-government military units managed to shoot down a coup helicopter which was involved in the assault on the presidential palace in Ankara. Fighting on the ground continues around Ankara, but with other coup positions evaporating the likelihood of the attempt being successful at this point is diminishing.

Mr Erdoğan has been quick to capitalise on the momentum, telling media the coup is over and that the government is in control. He immediately placed blame in this live address on Fethullah Gulen, a high-profile political figure and religious scholar based in US and an ideological father of the Gulenist movement.

"Now I’m addressing those in Pennsylvania,” says Mr Erdoğan.

“The betrayal you have shown to this nation and to this community, that’s enough. If you have the courage, come back to your country. If you can. You will not have the means to turn this country into a mess from where you are."

Any investigation into the broken coup will have to reveal both how multiple branches of the military could coordinate under the noses of Turkish domestic intelligence, and must answer just how far up the chain of command the coup plotters were ranked. Some senior officers were probably involved, however given significant sections of military refused to participate, the coup must have drawn much of its support from lower ranks.

There is obviously a serious power struggle occurring in Turkish politics, and today’s coup is unlikely to be the closing chapter. A comprehensive purge of rebel elements in the military will be the government's first task, but Mr Erdoğan will need to reassess the depth of his control over other sections of Turley’s institutions. It was assumed the president had solid control over the military. That estimation is now discredited, so who exactly Mr Erdoğan can trust is unknown and will be worrying him.

4pm - Although slow to secure Turkey’s major cities, the coup’s forces appear to have succeeded in taking control of major media broadcasters.

Whether this indicates the plot’s success is yet to be determined, but the junta’s control of media allows their message to be delivered across the country without opposition.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek told CNN the coup has failed, and that “the government is still in control,” yet the broadcaster’s Turkey channel is presently off air after troops landed in a helicopter outside the building and took control of the station, so his message was presumably to foreign audiences only.

Mr Simsek also told media many of the officers involved in the coup have been arrested and the jets conducting the low flyovers in support of the plot have been shot down. However, jets and helicopters are still observed patrolling the skies above Istanbul and Ankara and soldiers remain standing - along with armour - on key arterial routes.

State media employees have informed viewers that the next broadcast will be in the morning (GMT +3 hours). YouTube and other Internet media outlets are either shut down or operating intermittently.

There is fighting in the capital Ankara, although special forces groups and combat helicopters appear to have neutralised most pockets. The resistance appears to be elements of police riot squads mixed with civilian regime supporters. Up to 50 people are reported dead as a result of the fighting.

And although the situation is still messy, there are conflicting reports describing which faction lead the coup. Earlier suggestions placed the Islamist Gulenists at the spearhead of the plot, but some sources are now saying the factions representing the secularists are in control of the coup.

If the coup holds, and the secularists are in charge, Turkey’s military government may reach out to the US to ask for support, and in return promise to clamp down on the Islamic State (IS) in Turkey and in Syria in support of the international intervention against the group. Although it remains unclear whether the coup has been successful.

Secularists in the military have been uncomfortable with the regime’s decisions both to turn a blind eye to IS movements in the country and in some cases allegedly protect and abet the jihadist group and therefore alienate the international community.

1pm - The coup event in Turkey is already showing signs of slowing and a counter-coup appears to be forming.

The ruling faction has called upon supporters to take to the streets against the coup plotters. Turkish soldiers reportedly fired on protesters trying to cross Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge and an explosion has reportedly taken place at the Turkish parliament building, although this has not been verified.

An aircraft carrying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also reportedly landed at Istanbul's Ataturk airport while Turkish F-16 fighter jets reportedly shot down a helicopter carrying supporters of the ongoing attempted military coup.

As mentioned earlier, members of the Gulenist movement appear to be involved with the military units pushing the plot. The Gulenists are an Islamist movement which emerged in the 1970s. Since that time, its members have infiltrated many positions throughout the country’s military, media and politics. Although not without drawing criticism and crackdowns by Mr Erdoğan.

It appears members of the movement are leading the coup, although details are still unclear. This would suggest the factions representing the secular groups of Turkey’s elites are probably not supporting the attempt, or at least are holding back to see whether a counter-coup will emerge.

Reports indicate that Col. Muharrem Kose, a former military legal counsel who was dismissed from his position in March, is behind the ongoing coup attempt in Turkey. At least three other co-conspirators are believed to be complicit in the plot.

The commander of Turkey's First Army, Gen. Umit Dundar, said on live television the Turkish army does not support the coup launched against the Erdoğan government. Civilians and police units have in the past hour been seen retaking control of intersections and squares occupied by coup forces.

Mr Erdoğan clearly does not have control or the support of the entire military, so he will have to rely on police units and popular support for the time being. It is even more clear that the coup plotters do not have enough force to control the citizenry, and this may be why the plot is slowing and could fail.

Unconfirmed reports are also showing that Iran has closed its border with Turkey.

9am - Details are emerging from Turkey – an associate member of the EU – where military vehicles and personnel are in the streets of historic Istanbul and capital Ankara.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says elements within the military have taken actions without authorisation but would not say a coup had taken place. In Istanbul, military personnel are blocking the Bosporus Bridge, while reports in both cities tell of the army taking up key positions and setting up checkpoints.

In Ankara, Turkish F-16 fighter jets have carried out flyovers over the city, and roads to the General Staff headquarters have been blocked, according to Turkish media. There have also been unconfirmed reports of gunfire at the headquarters building. Notably, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was last reported to be on vacation in Bodrum, on Turkey's southwestern coast.

Traffic has been stopped from crossing both the Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges in Istanbul. Tanks are also said to be stationed outside Istanbul airport.

Mr Yildirim told NTV television by telephone: "We are working on the possibility of a [coup] attempt. We will not allow this attempt." He did not elaborate.

The Turkish military this morning did release a statement that it had taken over the country in order for democratic order and human rights to remain. In the statement, the military said that all existing foreign relations would continue and that rule of law would be a priority.

Civilians are being informed that martial law has been imposed and that they should return to their homes. It is unclear at this point which military units are participating in the coup attempt and which are responding to it.

Turkey’s recent history
The newly installed prime minister announced this month Turkey would pursue a foreign policy in which “increasing the number of friends” across the region would be a priority. He told media: “There is no reason for us to quarrel with Iraq, Syria, Egypt; with the countries of this region.”

In June, Turkey apologised to Russia for downing one of its Su-24 bombers over Syria in 2015. It also normalised diplomatic ties after nearly three years of chilly official reception. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also alienated the US by showing reluctance to assist in the international campaign against the Islamic State (IS).

However, as Syria’s implosion to the south has shown, Turkey’s “no enemies” plan to stubbornly stand with hands shoved in pockets has proved impossible for its worried and vulnerable leader. Power-hungry Mr Erdoğan watched with indifference the immolation of the Middle East after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, preferring not to become involved in what he considered a geopolitical dead end. That luxury has now ended.

During that time Turkey developed into a significant regional power. Aside from US forces stationed in Europe, Turkey boasts the largest military force on the continent. Its geography also covers some of the most strategic points in Asia, and its history is deeply connected to the inner workings of the Middle East.

Worry at the top
Experts at the American Enterprise Institute in March described Mr Erdoğan’s increasingly fractured and autocratic rule as leading to a state of possible chaos.

“His outbursts are raising eyebrows both in Turkey and abroad. Even members of his ruling party whisper about his increasing paranoia which, according to some Turkish officials, has gotten so bad that he seeks to install anti-aircraft missiles at his palace to prevent airborne men-in-black from targeting him in a snatch-and-grab operation,” says the AEI.

Mr Erdoğan has also increased pressure on Kurdish separatists in the country and pushed back at IS elements. Both of those groups (the Kurds have many militant factions in Turkey) have conducted multiple high-profile terror attacks on Turkish civilian and military targets this year.

He has also clamped down on rivals heavily over the past year, including the Turkish Gulenist movement. That group may be responsible for the coup attempt.

The situation is still fluid and there could be a chance for a counter coup if the acting faction does not secure power quickly.

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