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Turkey Looks to Rebuild Military After Purging Half Its Generals

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, center, walks with chief of general staff General Hulusi Akar at the Mausuleum of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Ataturk, in Ankara, July 28, 2016.

A day after Turkey dismissed more than 2,400 military personnel, its Supreme Military Council gathered in a hastily planned meeting for appointing their replacements.

Turkey's military leaders must fill vacancies for 149 generals and admirals, nearly half of its 358-member contingent, who are suspected of being involved in the July 15 failed coup attempt.

The early Thursday meeting brought together Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and commanders of Turkey's army, navy and air force.

Just before the meeting, two of Turkey's top-ranking generals resigned. Land Forces Chief of Staff General Ihsan Uyar and Training and Doctrine Command head General Kamil Basoglu stepped down.

Thursday in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Turkish authorities were within their rights to "pursue the coup plotters with all the means and possibilities of the state of law." But she expressed concern the Turkish government's crackdown may not be "proportional".

"But in a state of law, and that is what causes me concern and I am following very attentively, the principle of proportionality applies. And this principle of proportionality must be respected under all circumstances. And my concern arises from the fact [that authorities] are moving very hard and this principle of proportionality is perhaps not always at the center," Merkel said.

The Turkish government also moved to shut down 131 television channels, newspapers and other media outlets. It has issued 89 arrest warrants for journalists, 17 of whom are already in custody.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Turkish authorities Thursday to stop its "sweeping purge of the media," and to allow all journalists to work freely at this critical time for the country.

"The scale of this rout of the media is staggering," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Instead of channeling the overwhelming support it has received from across the political spectrum to unite the nation, the government is exploiting a failed coup to silence the critical press when Turkey most needs pluralistic media."

‘Troubling trend’

Most of the newly issued arrest warrants were targeted at journalists allegedly affiliated with U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Erdogan government claims was the mastermind of the attempt to overturn failed coup earlier this month.

Arrest warrants were issued for 47 former members of the editorial staff of the country's largest daily, Zaman, and at least one journalist was taken into custody. The U.S. State Department said such moves against news media represent a "troubling trend."

Journalist are seen gathered outside a court building to support a colleague who was detained in connection with the investigation launched into the recent failed coup attempt in Turkey, in Istanbul, July 27, 2016.
Journalist are seen gathered outside a court building to support a colleague who was detained in connection with the investigation launched into the recent failed coup attempt in Turkey, in Istanbul, July 27, 2016.

Zaman, which was placed under state control four months ago, had been closely connected with the Gulen movement. Since March, the newspaper has taken a strongly pro-government stance in its reporting.

The crackdown on journalists comes as part of a wider purge of government officials and academic leaders following the coup, which left nearly 300 people dead.

In a statement posted Wednesday on its website, the Turkish-American Scientists and Scholars Association (TASSA) said it is very worried about "the long-term adverse impact that recent events might have on higher education, academic freedom, and scientific advancement in Turkey," and urged government leaders to elevate democracy and academic freedom in the country.

Turkish media reported last week that the country's higher education board demanded the resignations of 1,577 university deans, while the education ministry had fired 15,200 teachers across the country.

Authorities at the interior ministry dismissed nearly 9,000 employees, it has been reported, and the finance ministry fired 1,500 people. Hundreds more were fired in the religious affairs directorate, the family and social policy ministry and the prime minister's office.

In total, about 10,000 Turkish officials have been detained and another 50,000 have been suspended in less than two weeks.