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Erdogan seeks control of Turkey spy agency, military chief of staff after failed coup

Seventeen journalists remanded in custody by Istanbul court over links to Gulen woke up in jails on Saturday
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AFP/file photo)

By Stuart Williams and Raziye Akkoc

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said he wanted to introduce constitutional changes to bring the Turkish spy agency and military chief of staff directly under his control as he seeks to tighten his grip on the country after the failed coup.

Turkey meanwhile pressed ahead with a crackdown on the alleged accomplices of the coup, which Erdogan said has resulted in the detention of almost 19,000 people but has also sparked international concern.

"We are going to introduce a small constitutional package (to parliament) which, if approved, will bring the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) and chief of staff under the control of the presidency," Erdogan told A-Haber television in an interview.

The government would need support from opposition parties to push through the shift as a super majority of two-thirds of deputies is needed to make constitutional changes.

Erdogan added that in the wake of the 15 July coup bid "military schools will be closed... and a national military university will be founded" as part of a wide-ranging shake-up of the military.

He also said that in future the heads of the land, sea and air forces will report directly to Defence Minister Fikri Isik.

The changes, announced just over two weeks after the coup, appear aimed at giving Erdogan more control over the armed forces and intelligence.

Rogue elements in the military - who Erdogan says were controlled by the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen - surprised authorities by launching the coup, prompting the president to complain of intelligence failures.

Erdogan said he was unhappy with the information received from the MIT and its chief Hakan Fidan on the night of the coup, complaining that valuable time was lost.  

"There was unfortunately in all of this a serious intelligence failure," he said.

Turkey on Thursday already reshuffled the upper echelons of its military after nearly half of its 358 generals were sacked for complicity in the coup.

A senior official said on Saturday that Turkey had intercepted encrypted messages sent by followers of Gulen on the app ByLock well before the coup attempt, giving Ankara names of tens of thousands within the preacher's network.

Gulen denies any involvement in the attempted putsch.

'Extend state of emergency'

Erdogan also said a three-month state of emergency declared in the wake of the coup could be extended, as the French authorities did after a string of militant attacks in the country.

"If things do not return to normal in the state of emergency then like France we could extend it," Erdogan said.

The president said that until now 18,699 people had been detained in the post-coup crackdown, with 10,137 of them placed under arrest.

Seventeen journalists remanded in custody by an Istanbul court over links to Gulen woke up in jails across the city on Saturday as international concern grows over the targeting of reporters after the thwarted putsch.

Twenty-one journalists had appeared before a judge in hearings lasting until midnight on Friday. Four were then freed but the rest were placed under pre-trial arrest, charged with "membership of a terror group", the state-run Anadolu news agency said. 

Those held include the veteran journalist Nazli Ilicak as well as the former correspondent for the pro-Gulen Zaman daily Hanim Busra Erdal. 

"It's not right to arrest journalists - this country should not make the same mistakes again," said Bulent Mumay, one of the four freed.

Erdogan also announced that as a gesture of goodwill after the coup, he was dropping hundreds of lawsuits against individuals accused of "disrespectful" insults against him.

Students released

Thousands of those detained after the coup have now been released, with an Istanbul court freeing 758 soldiers late on Friday, adding to another 3,500 former suspects already set free.

Among those released were 62 students from Istanbul's military academy - many said to be in their teens - who left Maltepe jail to an emotional reunion with relatives, Dogan news agency said.

Erdogan has complained loudly about the lack of Western solidarity for Turkey, but on Saturday met with Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdulrahman al-Thani of Qatar, one of Ankara's closest allies.

Tens of thousands of Erdogan supporters are due to rally in the German city of Cologne on Sunday with local authorities on edge as they attempt to prevent any clashes.

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