President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the West of supporting terrorism and standing by coup-plotters on Tuesday, questioning Turkey’s relationship with the United States and saying the “script” for the abortive putsch last month was “written abroad”.
In a combative speech at his palace in Ankara, Mr Erdogan said charter schools in the United States were the main source of income for the network of US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who he says masterminded the bloody July 15 coup.
“I’m calling on the United States: what kind of strategic partners are we, that you can still host someone whose extradition I have asked for?” Mr Erdogan said in a speech to local representatives of multinational firms operating in Turkey.
“This coup attempt has actors inside Turkey, but its script was written outside. Unfortunately the West is supporting terrorism and stands by coup plotters,” he said in comments which were met with applause, and broadcast live.
The 75-year-old Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies any involvement in the failed coup. President Barack Obama has said Washington will only extradite him if Turkey provides evidence of wrongdoing.
The fallout from the abortive coup, in which more than 230 people were killed as mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in a bid to seize power, has deepened a rift between Ankara and its Western allies.
Mr Erdogan and many Turks have been frustrated by US and European criticism of a crackdown in the wake of the putsch, accusing the West of greater concern about the rights of the plotters than the gravity of the threat to a Nato member.
More than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation since the coup, prompting fears that Mr Erdogan is pursuing an indiscriminate crackdown on all forms of dissent and using the situation to tighten his grip on power.
“If we have mercy on those who carried out this coup attempt, we will be the ones to be pitied,” he said.
The leader of the main opposition CHP party, which has condemned the coup and backed the government’s reaction so far, said a state of emergency declared in its aftermath now risked being used to make sweeping changes to the security forces without appropriate parliamentary support.
“There is no doubt that the law on emergency rule was issued in line with the constitution. But there is concern that its application is being used to exceed the goal,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of CHP.
“It may be necessary to restructure the state, undoubtedly, but this subject must go before parliament.”
Mr Erdogan has issued two decrees dismissing around 3,000 members of Nato’s second-biggest armed forces since the coup, including more than 40 per cent of generals. He has also shut down military high schools and brought commanders under tighter government control.
The nationalist MHP opposition, which like the CHP has largely backed the government’s response to the coup, also criticised the military purge.
Devlet Bahceli, the MHP leader, said the changes risked turning Turkey’s army into a force like that of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. “If the traditions and principles of the Turkish Armed Forces are trampled upon in an effort to fix its structural problems, it will resemble Saddam’s or Gaddafi’s army,” he said.
In his palace speech, Mr Erdogan said the military overhaul was necessary to prevent Gulenists attempting another coup.
“If we didn’t take this step, the members of this Gulenist organisation (FETO) would take over the military, and they would point the planes and tanks bought with the taxes of our people against them,” he said. “There is no turning back.”