Turkey coup: 90 dead, 1,560 held; F-16 jets strike near presidential palace

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Turkey-coupAnkara, Turkey: Jets bombed near Turkey’s presidential palace in Ankara early on Saturday as an army faction attempted to bring down the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Plumes of black smoke were seen rising over the Bestepe district where the palace is located, NTV television reported.

Earlier, Erdogan said that he did not know the whereabouts of Turkey’s top general after an attempted coup.

“I don’t know the circumstances regarding the chief of staff” General Hulusi Akar, Erdogan told reporters after flying into Istanbul, following reports earlier on state media he was taken hostage by the coup plotters.

At least 90 people, including 17 police officers were killed and over 1500 others were arrested after clashes broke out in the Turkish capital, NTV reported, citing the chief prosecutor’s office in the capital’s Golbasi district.

Members of Turkey’s armed forces said they had taken control of the country Friday as explosions, gunfire and a reported air battle between loyalist forces and coup supporters erupted in the capital. Turkey’s President remained defiant and called on people to take to the streets to show support for his embattled government.

Turks appeared to heed that call early Saturday marching through the streets of Izmir and Istanbul waving Turkish flags, according to television footage. Crowds also gathered in the main square in the capital, Ankara. The Dogan news agency reported that soldiers fired on a group of people trying to cross the Bosporus bridge to protest the attempted coup, and that some people have been hurt. TV footage showed people running for cover as shots rang out.

The chaos capped a period of political turmoil in Turkey blamed on the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has included a government shake up, a crackdown on dissidents and opposition media and renewed conflict in the mainly Kurdish areas of the southeast.

Erdogan, in an interview over FaceTime with the CNN Turk station, dismissed the military action as “an attempt at an uprising by a minority within our armed forces.” His office declined to disclose his whereabouts, saying only that he was in a secure location.

“I’m making a call out to my people. … Let us gather in our squares, at our airports as the people and let that minority group come upon as with their tanks and artillery and do whatever they wish to do,” Erdogan said.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said fighter jets under the control of loyalist forces were flying over the capital to strike at helicopters flown by coup supporters. Private NTV television reported that one helicopter was shot down. Others appeared to confirm that the military was not unified in its actions.

“Those who are attempting a coup will not succeed. Our people should know that we will overcome this,” Gen. Zekai Aksakalli, the commander of the military special forces, told the private NTV television by telephone.

A NATO official at alliance headquarters in Brussels told The Associated Press early Saturday that “we’re following events closely,” but said he had no other comment. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.

Nothing in NATO’s founding 1949 Washington Treaty says anything about intervening in the internal or political affairs of an alliance member, and Turkey kept its NATO membership following past military coups.

The action began Friday night, with fighter jets buzzing overhead, gunfire erupting outside military headquarters and vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul.

The coup leaders said they had seized control “to reinstall the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to ensure that the rule of law once again reigns in the country, for the law and order to be reinstated.”

“All international agreements and commitments will remain. We pledge that good relations with all world countries will continue,” the military said in the unnamed statement.

Soldiers blocked entry to Istanbul’s main Ataturk Airport, where four tanks were stationed, according to the private Dogan news agency. Two other tanks and a military vehicle were stationed in front of the VIP terminal. Dogan said the soldiers had entered the tower and stopped all flights.

Turkey’s state-run news agency said military helicopters have also attacked the headquarters of TURKSAT satellite station on the outskirts of Ankara and the Ankara police headquarters.

A dozen tanks were seen moving moving toward a palace used by the prime minister and deputy prime ministers. When a car tried to stop one of the tanks, the tank rammed through the vehicle. Those in the car escaped.

Erdogan told CNN Turk he didn’t believe the coup would succeed, adding: “There is absolutely no chain of command here. Right now the chain of command has been put on hold.”

As the crisis unfolded, there were reports that access to popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook had been blocked within the country. Facebook declined comment, but Twitter said it suspected “intentional” interference with its service.

“We have no reason to think we’ve been fully blocked in #Turkey, but we suspect there is an intentional slowing of our traffic in country,” the company said in a statement posted on its official public policy account. A spokesperson would not elaborate.

Access to social media has been obstructed during previous periods of political upheaval in the country, according to some Internet watchdog groups, although Turkish authorities have denied involvement and suggested that technical problems were to blame.