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Turkey Crackdown Grows as Erdogan Encourages Protests

  • Luis Ramirez

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are holding nightly rallies across the country to celebrate the defeat of Friday's attempted coup, but tension and violence continue amid questions on whether his survival is a reaffirmation of democracy or a step toward extreme nationalism.

“Now, the nation is backing us. By using the strength we have, we are going to eradicate the terrorists,” said Osman Kerimoglu, 24, demonstrating Monday in support of Erdogan at Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

“This movement [that carried out the coup] has a lot of branches everywhere, in the army, for example as teachers, in the police, generals, military,” he said.

Osman Kerimoglu, 24, demonstrated in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, July 18, 2016. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Osman Kerimoglu, 24, demonstrated in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, July 18, 2016. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Kerimoglu is among hundreds responding to the Turkish leader’s calls for more demonstrations in the days since the foiled coup. In a tweet, Erdogan urged his supporters to stay in the streets and defeat those who want him out of office.

“Dealing with this scum is the most important thing for my people. Do not stop. Do not retreat. We will not leave any of our town squares,” Erdogan tweeted.

Strengthening democracy?

The purge widened Monday. State media say about 14,000 people had been suspended from their government positions or detained on suspicion of being involved in the coup, including members of the judiciary, police officers, high-ranking officials, members of the military, and at least 100 generals and admirals.

With Erdogan's power reaffirmed and consolidated, there are questions as to whether the defeat of the coup strengthens democracy, or divides the nation.

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have held nightly rallies since Friday's failed coup. At this rally Monday night, they called for Turkey to reinstate the death penalty as the government arrested thousands including soldiers, generals, judges and high-ranking officials. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have held nightly rallies since Friday's failed coup. At this rally Monday night, they called for Turkey to reinstate the death penalty as the government arrested thousands including soldiers, generals, judges and high-ranking officials. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

An attack late Sunday by Erdogan supporters on members of the Alevi religious minority in Malatya, in eastern Turkey, raises fear among rights activists, dissidents, Kurds and religious minorities of widening polarization after the failed coup. News reports said pro-Erdogan demonstrators in Malatya also attacked a Protestant church and a Catholic church in the northern Black Sea city of Trabzon.

“The situation does not look good at all,” said Muharrem Guler, 58, sipping tea with friends at a teahouse in Okmeydani, a largely Alevi neighborhood of Istanbul and a bastion of the Erdogan opposition. “Of course, as Alevis, we are very, very tense. This country’s path is very unpredictable.”

Alevis have been the victims in several massacres in recent decades, and that is cause for Guler and his neighbors to worry.

He did not support the coup attempt.

“I’ve lived through it. I would never support a military coup,” Guler said.

Spreading blame

As the crackdown grew Monday, anger spread, as did blame.

Some of that blame is directed at the United States.

In a sign of growing power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's portrait replaces that of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of modern Turkey, on a public building. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

In a sign of growing power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's portrait replaces that of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of modern Turkey, on a public building. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Turkish leaders accuse Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric and political opponent of Erdogan who lives in Pennsylvania, of instigating the uprising, which Gulen denies. Turkey wants the United States to extradite him. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said Washington will consider an extradition petition, but wants to see evidence.

On the streets of Istanbul, Erdogan supporters accused the U.S. of bearing responsibility by allowing Gulen to be on U.S. soil.

During an interview, a group of demonstrators surrounded a VOA reporter, shouting, “America did it all.”

"Don’t trust them," shouted another, at the demonstrator who was being interviewed.

U.S. officials on Monday issued more calls for restraint from the Turkish leader.

Speaking in Brussels, Kerry reaffirmed U.S. support for the elected leadership and bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice, but said the U.S. also cautions “against a reach that goes well beyond that.”

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