Turkey accelerated its crackdown following Friday’s coup attempt, detaining 6,000 people as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to clean the state of supporters of a US-based cleric and dissident whom his government blames for the failed putsch.
Speaking at a funeral in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan vowed to “clean all state institutions of the virus” of Fethullah Gulen supporters. Members of what he called the “Gulen group” have “ruined” the armed forces, he said, and are being arrested in all ranks within the army.
Erdogan also said Turkey would request the extradition of the cleric, who has been given sanctuary in the US state of Pennsylvania, and his backers, Reuters reported.
Bekir Bozdag, the Turkish justice minister, said in a television interview: “The cleansing [operation] is continuing. Some 6,000 detentions have taken place. The number could surpass 6,000.”
US-Turkish relations have frayed over the accusation of Gulen’s involvement, with the US State Department releasing a statement denying any link to the events.
“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,” the State Department said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Turkey should produce evidence of Gulen’s guilt, amid concerns that Erdogan was using the aftermath of the coup to settle scores with enemies both at home and abroad.
The Turkish commander of an airbase used by the US was among those detained on Sunday. An official said Gen Bekir Ercan Van, 10 other soldiers and one police officer from the Incirlik base were being held.
Gulen denies his supporters are behind this weekend’s events in Turkey, and the plotters themselves said they were fighting to protect Turkey’s secular traditions.
In a speech on Saturday, he said the coup was “a gift from God” because it would allow him now to “cleanse the army”. At least 2,800 officers and soldiers were arrested on Saturday as the purge began, including five generals.
Erdogan’s purge continued in other state institutions, with more than 2,700 judges fired from their posts. Most analysts agree that the failed coup has given him the public support he needs to push for a change to the political system.