31 Jul 2016

Turkish govt dismisses 1400 soldiers

10:00 pm on 31 July 2016

The Turkish government has dismissed nearly 1400 military personnel for suspected links to a cleric it blames for an attempted coup, state media said on Sunday, hours after President Tayyip Erdogan announced sweeping changes to the armed forces.

The expulsions are the latest attempt by Mr Erdogan to bring Turkey's military - long seen as the guardians of the secular republic - firmly under government control. On Saturday he said he planned to shut down existing military academies and put the armed forces under the command of the Defence Ministry.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to people demonstrating against the failed military coup attempt.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Photo: AFP

State-run Anadolu Agency said on Sunday that 1389 military personnel had been dismissed for suspected links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkey of orchestrating the July 15-16 failed putsch. Mr Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, has denied the charges and condemned the coup.

Earlier this week, more than 1700 military personnel were dishonourably discharged for their role in the putsch, which saw a faction of the armed forces commandeer tanks, helicopters and warplanes in an attempt to topple the government. Mr Erdogan has said 237 people were killed and more than 2100 wounded.

Mr Erdogan, who narrowly escaped capture and possible death on the night of the coup, said last week that the military, NATO's second-biggest, needed "fresh blood". The dishonourable discharges included about 40 percent of Turkey's admirals and generals.

So far, more than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and schools have been either detained, removed or suspended over suspected links with Mr Gulen. Turkey's Western allies condemned the attempted coup, but have been rattled by the scale of the resulting crackdown.

The aggressive cuts to the military come when it is stretched by heavy fighting with Kurdish insurgents in the mainly Kurdish southeast and threats from Islamic State militants at its border with Syria.

Turkey's military is a member of the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Its Incirlik Air Base is used by coalition forces for missions against Islamic State.

Mr Erdogan said his proposals to close the nation's military academies and put the spy agency and the military chief of staff under his own control would be brought before Parliament.

The measures are the latest in a large-scale crackdown launched after the failed coup on 15 July.

'Mind your own business'

"We are going to introduce a small constitutional package which, if approved, will bring the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) and chief of staff under the control of the presidency," Mr Erdogan told Turkey's A Haber television on Saturday.

"Military schools will be shut down... we will establish a national defence university," he said.

The president added that the size of the gendarmerie would be cut, but its weaponry would be increased.

Mr Erdogan needs a two-thirds majority for the proposals to be adopted and therefore will have to secure support from opposition parties.

Turkey announced a military reshuffle on Thursday, including the dishonourable discharge of 1700 military servicemen. About 40 percent of generals and admirals have been discharged since the coup.

More than 66,000 public sector workers have been dismissed from their posts and 50,000 passports cancelled, while the labour ministry is investigating 1300 of its staff.

The state has shut 142 media outlets and detained several journalists.

A three-month state of emergency has also been declared across the country.

President Erdogan has also stepped up his attacks on nations criticising his actions, telling them to "mind your own business".

He has accused US Gen Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, of being "on the side of the coup plotters".

Gen Votel responded by saying that any reports that he was involved in the abortive coup were "unfortunate and completely inaccurate".

- BBC / Reuters

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