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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to bring the armed forces and intelligence unit under his control came after a five-hour long meeting of Turkey’s Supreme Military Council (YAS) on Thursday, an unnamed parliamentary official was quoted by Reuters as saying.
“The president said that … he would discuss with opposition parties bringing the General Staff and the MIT (intelligence agency) under the control of the presidency,” the official said.
Such a change would require a constitutional amendment, so Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party would require the support of opposition parties in parliament, Turkish media said.
After the meeting, Erdogan also approved the council’s decisions to keep armed forces chief Hulusi Akar and the army, navy and air force commanders in their posts, making few changes to the top brass, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters.
Erdogan, who narrowly escaped capture and possible death on the night of the coup, told Reuters in an interview last week that the military, NATO’S second biggest, needed “fresh blood”. A dishonourable discharge of nearly 1,700 military personnel followed, and included around 40 percent of Turkey’s admirals and generals.
On Friday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also announced the closure of the air base and the army barracks, all located near the capital Ankara, and which were used by the soldiers involved in the July 15-16 abortive putsch.
Turkey accuses US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup and has suspended or placed under investigation tens of thousands of his suspected followers, including soldiers, judges and academics. Some 1,300 labour ministry staff are also under investigation.
In line with Erdogan’s push for more power
Both the General Staff and MIT currently report to the prime minister’s office. Putting them under the president’s overall direction would be in line with Erdogan’s push for a new constitution centred on a strong executive presidency.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag repeated Ankara’s request to the United States to swiftly extradite Gulen, once a powerful ally of Erdogan. He cited intelligence reports suggesting that the 75-year-old preacher might flee his residence in rural Pennsylvania.
Gulen has condemned the coup and denies any involvement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said more than 300 personnel in his ministry had links to Gulen and that it had dismissed 88 employees.
Western governments and human rights groups have condemned the coup, in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured. But they have also expressed disquiet over the scale and depth of the purges, fearing that Erdogan may be using them to get rid of opponents and tighten his grip on power.
The government said on Wednesday it had ordered the closure of three news agencies, 16 television channels, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers. This announcement followed the shutting down of other media outlets and detention of journalists with suspected Gulenist ties.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the latest reports of Turkish closure of news media outlets and was seeking clarification from the government about the action.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel became the latest Western leader on Thursday to urge restraint, while underlining Turkey’s need to take action against the rebels.
“In a constitutional state – and this is what worries me and what I am following closely – the principle of proportionality must be ensured by all,” she told a news conference in Berlin.
This month’s events have exacerbated strains in Turkey’s relations with the United States. Washington has responded cautiously to the request to extradite Gulen, saying it must provide clear evidence of his involvement in the coup plot.
Bozdag said Turkey was receiving intelligence that Gulen might flee, possibly to Australia, Mexico, Canada, South Africa or Egypt. Egypt said it had not received an asylum request.
Gulen built up his reputation as a Sunni Muslim preacher with intense sermons. His movement, known as Hizmet, or “Service” in Turkish, set up hundreds of schools and businesses in Turkey and later abroad. His philosophy stresses the need to embrace scientific progress, shun radicalism and build bridges to the West and other religious faiths.
The United States and European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, have both urged Ankara to exercise restraint in its crackdown on suspected Gulen supporters and to ensure those arrested have a fair trial.
Amnesty International has said detainees may have suffered human rights violations, including beatings and rape – an accusation roundly rejected by Ankara.
The EU has also bridled at talk in Turkey – from Erdogan down – of restoring the death penalty, a move Brussels said would scupper Ankara’s decades-old bid to join the bloc.
Tourism, a pillar of the economy, has been badly hit by a series of deadly bombings in Turkey, including one at Istanbul’s airport in June that killed 45 people, and by tensions with Russia. Data showing a 40 percent drop year-on-year in June in the number of foreign visitors to Turkey is further bad news for the government. The decline was the biggest in 22 years.