ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Wednesday, July 20, intensified a sweeping crackdown on the media, the military, the courts and the education system following an attempted coup, targeting tens of thousands of teachers and other state employees for dismissal in a purge that raised concerns about basic freedoms and the effectiveness of key institutions.
The Turkish government focused in particular on teachers suspected of backing Friday’s failed uprising, taking steps to revoke the licenses of 21,000 teachers at private schools and sacking or detaining half a dozen university presidents. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers run a worldwide network of schools, of fomenting the insurrection, which was quashed by security forces and protesters loyal to the government.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and has denied the coup accusations, is increasingly becoming a source of tension between the United States and Turkey, which has requested the cleric’s extradition. The two NATO allies cooperate in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State group, with American military planes flying missions from Turkey’s Incirlik air base into neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Erdogan on Wednesday was helming an emergency meeting of Turkey’s National Security Council, the highest advisory body on security issues. The president, who has said he narrowly escaped being killed or captured by renegade military units, previously declared that an “important decision” would be announced after the meeting.
While Turks speculated on what the new measure might be, it was almost certain to bolster an aggressive campaign against perceived enemies across a wide spectrum of Turkish society, from schools to the courts to the highest levels of government.
The government of Erdogan, accused of increasingly autocratic conduct even before the coup attempt, revoked the press credentials of 34 journalists because of alleged ties to Gulen’s movement, Turkish media reported. A satirical magazine, Leman, said authorities blocked the distribution of a special edition over its cover featuring a caricature in which two mysterious hands play a game of strategy, one pushing soldiers onto the board and the other responding by sending civilians.
In addition to its moves against private teachers, Turkey has already announced the firing of 15,200 workers at state schools, demanded the resignations of 1,577 university deans and halted all foreign assignments for state-employed academics. A total of 50,000 civil service employees have been fired in the purges, which have reached Turkey’s national intelligence service and the prime minister’s office.
Authorities have rounded up close to 9,000 people — including 115 generals, 350 officers and some 4,800 other military personnel — for alleged involvement in the coup attempt. The coup has led to public anger and calls for the government to reinstate the death penalty, a demand that Erdogan has said he will consider.
Anadolu, Turkey’s state-run news agency, published what it said were excerpts from the testimony to prosecutors of the closest aide to the Turkish military chief, in which he allegedly confessed to being a follower of Gulen and of knowing of the coup plans.
Lt. Col. Levent Turkkan allegedly told interrogators that coup plotters wanted to detain top civilian and military leaders, a plan that largely failed. Turkkan allegedly asserted that the coup failed because the military chief, Hulusi Akar, rejected an offer to lead the coup attempt.
“When he didn’t accept the offer, other force commanders could not be convinced. We can say that by not accepting the offer, he paved the way for its failure,” the agency quoted Turkkan as saying. Turkkan reportedly said he “started to regret it after I saw the bombs explode and the civilians being harmed.”
Officials on Wednesday raised the death toll from the violence surrounding the coup attempt to 240 government supporters. At least 24 coup plotters were also killed.
The purges against suspected Gulen supporters follow earlier aggressive moves by Erdogan’s administration against Gulen loyalists in the government, police and judiciary following corruption probes targeting Erdogan associates and family members in late 2013 — prosecutions the government says were orchestrated by Gulen.
In a separate conflict, Turkish jets carried out cross-border strikes against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, killing 20 alleged militants, state media reported Wednesday.
F-16 jets pounded targets belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in Iraq’s Hakurk region, the Anadolu agency reported. The Turkish military has been regularly hitting suspected PKK hideouts and position in Iraq since last year, but Wednesday’s strikes were the first since the failed coup.
The military appeared to be at least partly attempting to show that the forces are on top of security matters.
Torchia reported from Istanbul. Associated Press journalists Sarah El Deeb, Cinar Kiper and Bram Janssen in Istanbul contributed.