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Turkey to Extend State of Emergency Amid Freedom Concerns

  • Associated Press

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) chairs the National Security Council that met to recommend prolonging the state of emergency by a further three months, in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 17, 2018.

Turkey is set to extend a state of emergency for the sixth time since the failed 2016 coup attempt, worrying both government opponents and allies who fear the special powers are driving Turkey in an increasingly authoritarian direction.

The state of emergency, declared five days after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, has allowed a massive government crackdown aimed at suspected supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey says was behind the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.

Under the state of emergency, Turkey has arrested around 50,000 people and purged 110,000 civil servants to allegedly oust Gulen's followers from state jobs.

The state of emergency has also paved the way for the arrest of other government opponents, including activists, journalists and politicians and forced the closure of media and non-governmental organizations over alleged links to extremist groups.

Most crucially, it has allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to rule through decrees, often bypassing parliament, which he has long accused of slowing down his government's ability to perform.

Among the more than 30 decrees issued since the coup, some have regulated the use of winter tires, obliged detainees accused of links to extremism to wear uniforms in court and gave full-employment rights to temporary workers. One decree granting legal immunity to civilians who helped thwart the coup sparked an outcry amid fears it would encourage vigilantes.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's pro-secular main opposition party, this week accused Erdogan of taking advantage of the failed military coup to trample on democracy and lead a "civilian coup" of his own through his emergency powers.

`What have winter tires got to do with the state of emergency?" he asked.

"Through the decrees with the force of law, the government can now do whatever it pleases," Kilicdaroglu said. "The constitution is of no importance. The government has obtained the power to carry out all unlawful arrangements."

Turkey's National Security Council on Wednesday recommended prolonging the state of emergency by a further three months and the government submitted a bill for its extension to parliament. A vote was expected Thursday.

The government has defended its move to extend the emergency rule by pointing to the severity of the coup attempt, when rogue soldiers attacked parliament and other state buildings leading to more than 250 deaths. It has also cited a continued security threat from Gulen's network of supporters.

"The threats that our country continues to face have made the extension of the state of emergency by a further three months imperative," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told journalists Wednesday.

Erdogan has said the state of emergency will remain as long as security threats persist. Few believe that Erdogan will allow the emergency rule to end before a presidential election in 2019, when a set of constitutional amendments, narrowly approved in a referendum in April, come into effect, giving the president sweeping powers.

The state of emergency has permitted authorities to ban public gatherings, which some say has limited opposition parties' abilities to run effective campaigns.

The European Union, which Turkey once hoped to join, and the Council of Europe — the continent's top human rights and democracy body — have expressed concerns over the long-running state of emergency. The EU has called on Turkish authorities to respect the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Council of Europe has criticized decrees that dismissed elected mayors and other municipal officials in Turkey's mainly-Kurdish southeast over alleged terror-related charges and replaced them with unelected officials.

The rights advocacy group Freedom House this week reduced Turkey's status from a "Partly Free" country to "Not Free," citing among other things, the replacement of the elected mayors and the arrests and purges of public sector workers for alleged links to Gulen.

The group said the moves had left "citizens hesitant to express their views on sensitive topics."

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