Turkish president announces changes to military in wake of failed coup

Posted at 6:56 PM, Jul 31, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a new presidential decree Sunday that introduced sweeping changes to Turkey's military in the wake of a July 15 failed coup, bringing the armed forces further under civilian authority.

The decree, the third issued under a three-month state of emergency declared after the attempted coup, gives the president and prime minister the authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy.

It also announces the discharge of 1,389 military personnel, including Erdogan's chief military adviser, who had been arrested days after the attempted coup, the Chief of General Staff's charge d'affaires and the defense minister's chief secretary.

The changes are part of a broad crackdown in the aftermath of the abortive putsch, which Erdogan blames on of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who he says was behind the coup. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denies any knowledge of the attempt to overthrow the government.

Authorities have continued to search for army personnel suspected of participation in the failed coup.

A night-time operation outside the Aegean resort town of Marmaris in the early hours of Monday captured nine people suspected of being part of a group that raided a hotel at which Erdogan had been staying during the coup.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said gunfire was exchanged during the operation and that three suspects were still on the run. Television footage showed armed forces running through forest roads while a helicopter hovered overhead.

Erdogan had been on vacation in Marmaris when the coup occurred. A group of soldiers who raided his hotel in an attempt to capture or kill him is believed to have missed the president by an hour or less.

The night-time operation used drones and helicopters to pinpoint the location of the men, the official said, adding that authorities had been notified by a group of local villagers who had been hunting boars.

Apart from apprehending those who directly participated in the putsch, the government has sought to crack down on those suspected of being members of Gulen's movement and has been bringing the military under increasing civilian control.

Sunday's presidential decree puts the military commands directly under the defense ministry, puts all military hospitals under the authority of the health ministry, and also expands the Supreme Military Council — the body that makes decisions on military affairs and appointments — to include Turkey's deputy prime ministers and its justice, foreign and interior ministers.

It also shuts down all military schools, academies and non-commissioned officer training institutes and establishes a new national defense university to train officers.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested in the crackdown, most of whom are military personnel. Thousands more have been detained and nearly 70,000 people have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the education, media, health care, military and judicial sectors. On Sunday, Turkey's soccer federation said every member of its committees had tendered their resignations "for the well-being of the ongoing security investigation."

In an interview Saturday with private A Haber television, Erdogan said he also wanted to put the country's MIT intelligence agency and the chief of general staff's headquarters under the presidency.

"If we can pass this small constitution package ... then the chief of general staff and MIT will be tied to the president," Erdogan said.

The package would need to be brought to parliament for a vote.

The government's crackdown has caused concern among the country's Western allies, who have urged restraint. Turkey has demanded the speedy extradition of Gulen from the United States, but Washington has asked for evidence he was involved in the attempted coup and says the US extradition process must be allowed to take its course.

Erdogan has also strongly criticized US military officials for comments he said implied that the detention of Turkish military officers as part of the coup investigation could affect the country's fight against the Islamic State group.

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, was to visit Turkey and was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Monday, the prime minister's office said.

Turkey's relations with Germany are also coming under strain, with Ankara demanding its crackdown on the Gulen movement extend to Gulen-affiliated schools in Germany, and seeking the extradition of members of the judiciary believed to have ties to the movement who are in Germany.

Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin criticized a decision by German authorities not to permit messages from politicians in Turkey to be shown on a video screen Sunday at an anti-coup rally in the German city of Cologne that drew about 20,000 people.

Germany's highest court rejected a bid Saturday night to reverse local judges' ruling that a screen at the event couldn't be used to show addresses from outside speakers — a decision that Turkey says prevented an address by Erdogan.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said there's "no place in Germany" for any side to "bring domestic political tensions from Turkey to us in Germany and intimidate people with other political convictions."

Germany has a sizeable population of people with Turkish roots.

In a series of tweets, Turkey's EU affairs minister Omer Celik criticized the German court decision as going "against freedom of speech and right to assembly" and said it was "such a shame to see that EU fails in upholding democracy and showing solidarity with a candidate country in the face of a coup threat."

Turkey has been seeking to join the European Union for decades, although its efforts have been near moribund for years.

Also Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded the 28-nation EU say exactly when Turkish citizens will be granted visa-free entry and added that, if the rules aren't loosened, Ankara will back off a deal to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.