, Ankara, Turkey, Jul 28 – Turkey on Thursday reshuffled key military commanders sacking almost half of its generals in the wake of the failed coup, as authorities shut down dozens of media outlets in a widening crackdown.
A hastily-convened military council meeting came after the government ordered the discharge of 149 generals — nearly half of the armed forces’ entire contingent of 358 — for alleged complicity in the putsch bid.
Separately, a total of 131 newspapers, TV channels and other media outlets were being shut down under the three-month state of emergency declared in the wake of the coup.
The July 15 rebellion saw plotters bomb Ankara from warplanes and wreak havoc with tanks on the streets of Istanbul in a bid to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But it sparked a backlash affecting all aspects of life in Turkey, a key NATO member with a population of 79 million and the second largest army in the Alliance.
So far almost 16,000 people have been detained in a crackdown — the magnitude of which has caused international alarm.
“My concern has to do with the fact that the actions here are very tough and the principle of proportionality is not always central,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.
“It seems as if while Turkey has avoided the abyss, it is descending into a serious domestic crisis,” added her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a newspaper interview.
– Top command reshuffled –
The meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS), lasting more than five hours, brought together Prime Minister Binali Yildirim with top military figures untarnished by the coup.
In a possible move to pre-empt its decisions, two of Turkey’s top ranking generals — Land Forces Chief of Staff General Ihsan Uyar and Training and Doctrine Command head General Kamil Basoglu — resigned just before the meeting, the Dogan news agency said.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin announced after the meeting that deputy chief of staff General Yasar Guler would become head of the gendarmerie and first army commander General Umit Dundar would take the post of deputy chief of staff.
Chief of staff General Hulusi Akar — who was held hostage in the coup attempt — would continue in his post as well as the heads of the navy, land and air forces, Kalin said.
Lower-ranking officers were expected to be fast-tracked to fill gaps in top positions but Kalin did not announce how the 149 sacked generals would be replaced.
In a symbol of the military’s waning power, the meeting was held at the Cankaya Palace of the Turkish premier in Ankara and not, as is customary, at military headquarters.
At least 178 generals have been detained, with 151 of them already remanded in custody.
– ‘Return like Khomeini’ –
Erdogan, who survived the biggest threat to his 13-year domination of the country when supporters countered the plotters on the streets, has blamed the attempted overthrow on US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.
The cleric denies the charges, but Turkey insists radical measures are needed to eradicate what Erdogan describes as the “virus” of Gulen’s influence across all Turkish institutions.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said Gulen had wanted to return to Turkey from his leafy compound in Pennsylvania, just like Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did when he returned to Tehran from Paris in 1979 in the Islamic revolution.
“He (Gulen) was going to bring his own order. It would have been a totally different Turkey,” said Bozdag.
– Media closures –
Meanwhile, three news agencies, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers were ordered to shut down, the country’s official gazette said Wednesday.
It did not give the names of the outlets, but according to a list obtained by the CNN-Turk channel they included mainly provincial titles as well as some well-known national media.
These include the opposition daily Taraf, as well as the Zaman newspaper and its English-language sister publication, Today’s Zaman, which were part of a holding company linked to Gulen until being put into state administration in March.
Authorities issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists earlier this week and on Wednesday issued another 47 for former Zaman staff.
A total of 26 from both sets of warrants have been detained so far, Turkish media indicated, although several of those targeted are believed to be abroad.
“Rounding up journalists and shutting down media houses is the latest assault on a media already weakened by years of government repression,” Amnesty International said.