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Istanbul: From bloodshed to business as usual in one short night

Running battles and coup plots have given way to Metro trips and cleared streets. But residents expect another night of protests, and are ready
A Turkish police officer stands close to a Turkish flag on the Bosphorus bridge, Istanbul (AFP)

Istanbul, TURKEY – It was a night of running battles and bloodshed on the streets of Istanbul, as thousands of unarmed civilians marched to confront pro-coup soldiers positioned in tanks and behind machine guns.

In the morning, in stark contrast to Friday's violence, Turkey's largest city on Saturday appeared to fall back into an uneasy calm.

While fighting was still raging at the Military Command Headquarters in the capital Ankara - said to be the stronghold of the coup instigators – the two Istanbul bridges where it all started were open to traffic. 

Soldiers deployed by coup leaders had either abandoned or were forced from crucial locations. Public transport, including the Metro network, was operating normally this morning.

Istanbul residents have developed a reputation for making a quick return to daily life after unsavory incidents, but that is not to say they are not preparing for more.

Many spoken to by Middle East Eye believed the calm is only temporary and are preparing for another night of resistance. Despite the deaths of 161 people across the country, citizens are ignoring the risks to prevent another Egypt in their country.

Gonca Babur Cakir, 35, from Istanbul’s Buyukcekmece area close to the Ataturk airport, left her small children alone at home to take to the streets.

“As an ordinary citizen, I cannot allow what happened in Egypt to happen here. I will be in the streets again tonight,” she said. “I am taking to the streets for the independence of my country and for the futures of my two children.

“I had fallen asleep with my children last night. I got a call from my brother asking if I was well and telling me not to go out. I turned on the TV and saw the prime minister announcing that a coup was under way. I couldn’t stay silent in the face of this.”

About 60 tanks under soldiers loyal to the president were ordered to Istanbul from their base in northwestern Turkey to head to Istanbul to root out any remaining pro-coup forces, a Turkish official said.

However, the armour was reported to have been held up by civilians on the city limits, as they apparently attempted to prevent further incursions - of any persuasion - into their city.

Zeynep Yildiz, a housewife in Istanbul's Fatih area, told MEE: “I never experienced previous coups in Turkey but grew up listening about it from my family and about how bad it was. As soon as I heard, I took to the streets.”

She added: "We were getting text messages to take to the streets against the coup. If we hadn’t done so maybe things would be different today."

Ebru Rende, a businesswoman who had been on the streets since last night in Istanbul's Basaksehir area, also near the airport, said: “I was shocked when I heard the news. I immediately took to the streets.

"Thousands of us are here. For once we are united as a country. Leftist, rightist, covered head, skirt-wearing, we are all here. I am overwhelmed with emotion. I will do anything for my country.”

Despite many citizens taking to the streets to prevent the coup from being successful, many people were too frightened to leave their homes.

MEE drove through various residential compounds where the car parks were full and no one was leaving their homes.

Lina Sirine, who was in Taksim Square when the army moved in last night, ventured out once again this morning.

"When we were walking up to Taksim square, the streets were slowly becoming alive with residents coming out to check out what happened.

"No one was around. It was like a complete ghost town."

Repeated calls by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for citizens to take to the streets again this evening nevertheless appear likely to be heeded.

Whether any coup instigators will still be in place and fight them remains to be seen.