President Erdogan vows to behead 'traitors' on first anniversary of failed Turkey coup

'Exactly a year ago today, around this hour, a treacherous attempt took place'

Zeynep Bilginsoy
,Suzan Fraser
Saturday 15 July 2017 22:53 BST

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to behead traitors in an emotional address to tens of thousands of people on the first anniversary of the country’s failed military coup.

Mr Erdogan told the vast, flag-waving crowd the attempt to end his more than a decade-long rule was “not the first attack against our country, and it won't be the last”.

“Exactly a year ago today, around this hour, a treacherous attempt took place,” he said.

Then, referring to a series of terror attacks that hit Turkey over the last year, he added: “For that reason, we'll first cut the heads off of these traitors.”

Mr Erdogan took part in a national unity march in Istanbul, converging at the July 15 Martyrs' Bridge, formally called the Bosphorus Bridge, to remember 250 people who died on this day last year trying to resist the coup.

Accompanied by his family and the families of the deceased, he inaugurated a hollow, globe-shaped monument featuring the names of the victims near the foot of the bridge.

The bridge was the scene of clashes between civilians and soldiers in tanks. At least 30 people died there and more than 2,000 were injured across Turkey in the struggle. Thirty-five coup plotters were also killed.

Vast crowds gathered in Istanbul

Photographs of the 250 “martyrs” were displayed on monitors and their names announced. Mr Erdogan praised their bravery saying they were armed only with Turkish flags and “their faith” while resisting coup-plotters in their tanks.

Mr Erdogan was later due to return to Ankara to address parliament at the exact moment it was bombed a year ago. He is also scheduled to inaugurate another monument honouring the dead.

Turkish soldiers attempted to overthrow the government and the president using tanks, warplanes and helicopters.

The coup plotters declared their seizure of power on the state broadcaster, bombed the country's parliament and other key locations, and raided an Aegean resort where Mr Erdogan had been on vacation.

But the president had already left and the coup attempt was put down by civilians and security forces.

Turkey blames US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the coup and infiltrating state institutions. Mr Gulen denies the allegations.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Turkey declared a state of emergency that has been in place ever since, which has allowed the government to rule by decree and to dismiss tens of thousands of people from their jobs.

More than 50,000 people have also been arrested for alleged links to Mr Gulen and other groups.

Onlookers at a rally on the anniversary of the failed coup

In the latest government decree published Friday evening, 7,395 more state employees were fired, including teachers, academics, military and police officers, bringing the number of dismissed to more than 110,000.

The government calls the crackdown necessary to purge state institutions of those linked to Mr Gulen, but critics say the dismissals are arbitrary and the victims' paths to recourse severely curtailed.

“It has been exactly one year since Turkey's darkest and longest night was transformed into a bright day, since an enemy occupation turned into the people's legend,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier in the day at a special parliamentary session in Ankara, the capital, attended by Mr Erdogan.

The US State Department on Saturday issued a statement praising the bravery of the Turkish people who took to the streets to “preserve the rights and freedoms of their democratic society”.

“The preservation of democracy requires perseverance, tolerance, dissent and safeguards for fundamental freedoms,” the agency said, warning that curbs on those key freedoms erode “the foundations of democratic society”.

“More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times,” the statement said.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg paid homage to those who lost lives resisting the coup and said attempts to undermine democracy in any one of the allied nations was “unacceptable”.

A new national holiday in Turkey has been declared on 15 July.

As they did on the night of the 2016 coup attempt, mosques across Turkey after midnight began to simultaneously recite a verse, usually read before Friday prayers, to alert and invite Muslims to the streets.

Associated Press

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