'We will rip the heads off traitors' says Erdogan in coup speech

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Hundreds of thousands gather on Bosphorus Bridge where dozens were killed in clashes during coup attempt

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets a young girl at the July 15 Martyrs’ Monument during its inauguration at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on 16 July 2017 (AFP)
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Wednesday 6 September 2017 12:37 UTC
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A defiant President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "rip the heads off" traitors in a speech to mark a year since the failed coup attempt in which he again backed plans to re-introduce the death penalty in Turkey.

Addressing a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Istanbul on Saturday evening, Erdogan promised violent retribution against Turkey's enemies, including FETO - his term for Gulen's network - and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"We know who is behind FETO, the PKK and all of them," he said. "We cannot defeat the queen, king, or sheikhs without defeating the pawns, knights and castles. Firstly, we will rip the heads off of these traitors."

Erdogan was speaking to massive crowd gathered at the Bosphorus Bridge where tanks were placed and civilians and troops were killed during the coup.

He said that alleged members of Gulen's network would be forced to wear jumpsuits like those worn by prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, after one detainee showed up to a court hearing wearing a T-shirt that said "Hero".

Shortly afterwards, Turkish authorities arrested a newspaper editor who wrote in a column that the importance given to the commemorations had been exaggerated.

Erdogan also said he would approve "without hesitation" the death penalty if parliament voted to bring it back, a move that would effectively end Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

"I don't look at what Hans and George say. I look at what Ahmet, Mehmet, Hasan, Huseyin, Ayse, Fatma and Hatice say," he said, to cheers from a flag-waving crowd.

He later made a speech in front of the presidential palace in Ankara early on Sunday, the last of several he has given across the country to mark the anniversary of last year's failed coup.

Erdogan, the most popular and divisive politician in recent Turkish history, sees himself as the liberator of pious millions who were deprived for decades of their rights and welfare by Turkey's secular elite.

EU 'messing us about'

He also stepped up his attack on the European Union, saying Turkey had to go its own way.

"The stance of the European Union is clear to see ... 54 years have passed and they are still messing us about," Erdogan said, citing what he said was Brussels' failure to keep promises on everything from a visa deal to aid for Syrian refugees.

"We will sort things out for ourselves, there's no other option."

Ties with Europe were strained after the coup, given the West's alarm about the scale of the government crackdown that followed.

Meanwhile, Yeliz Koray, editor of the Kocaeli Koz newspaper in the northwestern province of Izmit, was detained at her home late on Saturday, the newspaper said.

"Certain groups were bothered by the piece and made Koray a target. They wanted to lynch Koray for her writing, which is part of the right of freedom of expression," the newspaper said on its website on Sunday.

In a column entitled "I'll Eat Your Epic," Koray criticised the government for what she said was an overemphasis on the events of 15 July last year, saying it paled in significance next to World War I and major battles in Turkish history.

She said the government had not done enough to expose what happened on the night when rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and planes in an attempt to topple Erdogan. Some 250 people were killed, many of them unarmed civilians.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists calls Turkey the world's biggest jailer of journalists, with some 160 detained.

Juncker responds

Some 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs, and more than 50,000 detained on suspicion of links to the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the attempted putsch.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU remained committed to dialogue with Turkey and called on Ankara to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. He also warned against reinstating the death penalty.

"One year after the attempted coup, Europe's hand remains outstretched," Juncker wrote in Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"If Turkey were to introduce the death penalty, the Turkish government would finally slam the door to EU membership."