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US Urges Turkey to Respect Rule of Law as it Probes Coup Attempt

  • Ken Bredemeier

A damaged window is pictured at the police headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, July 18, 2016.

A damaged window is pictured at the police headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, July 18, 2016.

The United States is urging Turkey to exercise restraint and act within the rule of law as it investigates last week’s failed coup, amid conflicting reports about whether a former Air Force commander confessed to being a ringleader of the attempted takeover.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that 8,777 officers have been suspended and 6,000 members of the judiciary and military have been detained following the attempted coup Friday, sparking concern from world leaders who warn against actions that would damage constitutional order.

On Monday, Anadolu quoted General Akin Ozturk, who earlier had denied involvement in the uprising against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as saying that he "acted with the intention of carrying out a coup."

But the news agency has since taken the report down and his alleged involvement has been denied in reports by private news media outlets in Turkey.

In Brussels Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he supported bringing perpetrators of the attempted coup in Turkey to justice, but warned the government against going "too far" while restoring order in the country.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest stressed U.S. support for Turkey's "democratically elected" government and said Washington strongly values "the important relationship" with its NATO ally. But he said the government should “be supportive of due process and freedoms that are outlined in the Turkish constitution that include freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of assembly.”

People carry the coffin of victim of the coup attempt Sehidmiz Murat Inci during his funeral ceremony at the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara on July 18, 2016.

People carry the coffin of victim of the coup attempt Sehidmiz Murat Inci during his funeral ceremony at the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara on July 18, 2016.

Turkish President Erdogan ordered F-16 fighters to patrol Turkey's skies overnight, although there was no new sign of resistance against the government. Meanwhile, Ankara suspended annual leave for more than three million civil servants.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels that the rule of law "needs to be protected for the sake of the country."

Erdogan said Sunday he is receptive to reinstating the country's death penalty in the aftermath of the coup attempt. But Mogherini warned that such a step may end Turkey's EU membership hopes.

In Germany, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that the EU is a "community of laws and values" with which the death penalty was not compatible.

A colleague cries as friends carry the coffin of a police officer killed during a failed military coup last Friday, during his funeral at Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara, Turkey, July 17, 2016.

A colleague cries as friends carry the coffin of a police officer killed during a failed military coup last Friday, during his funeral at Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara, Turkey, July 17, 2016.

Crackdown continues

Erdogan has promised to rid Turkey of people involved in the coup attempt. "At every level of government, the period of cleaning this virus will continue," Erdogan said. "Like the cancer virus, it spreads all around the government."

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag says Turkish authorities are accelerating arrests of people, which have included judges, military officers and soldiers. Those in custody include the commander of the Third Army Corps, General Erdal Ozturk, who could face charges of treason.

Other high-ranking military officials flew to neighboring Greece by helicopter and requested political asylum. Turkish media reports say some of those who fled are believed to be among the architects of the coup.

On Thursday, a court in Athens will decide whether or not to send the military officials back to Turkey for punishment.

Death penalty considered

Speaking Sunday to people who called for the death penalty, Erdogan said the use of capital punishment cannot be delayed, saying "We cannot ignore this demand."

His speech was punctuated by frequent calls of "we want the death penalty'' from the large crowd, to which Erdogan responded: "We hear your request. In a democracy, whatever the people want they will get.''

A young boy waves a Turkish national flag as supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gather during a pro-government demonstration on Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 18, 2016.

A young boy waves a Turkish national flag as supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gather during a pro-government demonstration on Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 18, 2016.

Erdogan said he would discuss it with opposition parties but that "We will not delay this decision for long. Because those who attempt a coup in this country must pay.''

Turkey hasn't executed anyone since 1984, and capital punishment was legally abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Mogherini, however, was straight-forward in saying that if Turkey were to institute the death penalty, it would lose all hope of joining the EU.

"Let me be very clear," she said. "No country can become an EU state if it introduces the death penalty."

Kerry denies US Involvement

Secretary Kerry has denounced suggestions that Washington was involved in Friday's failed coup in Turkey.

"We think it's irresponsible to have accusations of American involvement," Kerry told CNN on Sunday.

FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pa., Sept. 26, 2013.

FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pa., Sept. 26, 2013.

Turkish President Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric now living in Pennsylvania, of orchestrating the violence and demanded that Gulen be extradited.

Erdogan frequently refers to "masterminds" who he says are bent on breaking up Turkey, in what appears a veiled reference to the West in general, and more specifically, the United States. On Saturday, Labor Minister Suleyman Soylu accused Washington of being behind the coup attempt.

In a phone call on Saturday, Kerry told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations,” according to a report of the call released by the State Department.

Kerry also told CNN that Turkey has made no formal request for Gulen's extradition, and that he'd asked the country's foreign minister to make the official request, saying that "the United States is not harboring anybody."

Gulen has denied being behind the failed coup and dismissed calls for his extradition back to Turkey.

Gulen said he has “no concerns” about being extradited to Turkey, because the United States is “a country of law.

"The rule of law reigns supreme here. I don't believe this government will pay attention to anything that is not legally sound,” Gulen said during an interview with media.

Funerals

Meanwhile, thousands of people attended funerals Sunday in Istanbul and Ankara for those killed. Prayers were read simultaneously from Turkey's 85,000 mosques at noon to honor those who died.

Erdogan openly wept Sunday at the funeral for his top campaign manager and the manager's teenage son who were killed when renegade soldiers opened fire on protesters at the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul on Friday night.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan right, wipes his tears during the funeral of Mustafa Cambaz, Erol and Abdullah Olcak, killed Friday while protesting the attempted coup against Turkey's government, in Istanbul, July 17, 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan right, wipes his tears during the funeral of Mustafa Cambaz, Erol and Abdullah Olcak, killed Friday while protesting the attempted coup against Turkey's government, in Istanbul, July 17, 2016.

He used a handkerchief to wipe away the tears and turned around as he continued to weep.

The government Monday said 208 were killed in the uprising, including 145 civilians, 60 police and three soldiers, in addition to more than 100 coup plotters. Conditions remained tense in Istanbul, Ankara and some other provincial cities, and there were reports of sporadic violence.

Erdogan has also encouraged citizens who took to the streets during the coup attempt to stay there as a “vigil” for democracy.

US military operations

Turkey on Sunday also reopened its airspace to military aircraft, allowing the U.S.-led coalition to resume air operations against Islamic State militants.

Turkey had closed its airspace following the attempted coup.

Turkey, a NATO member, is a key partner in U.S.-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and has allowed American jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against the extremists in nearby Syria and Iraq.

VOA's National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, White House Correspondent Mary Alice Salinas and VOA's Turkish service are among those who contributed to this story.

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