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Turkey arrests 300 presidential guardsmen over coup links

Turkey continues purge of military, cancels passports of 10,000 civil servants, and places interior ministry in command of gendarmarie forces
More than 50,000 people have been arrested or sacked from state institutions since last Friday's attempted coup (AFP)

Turkey on Friday announced the arrest of hundreds of presidential guardsmen over alleged links to last week's attempted coup, as the purge of the country's military continued.

At least 283 of 300 suspects had already been arrested, according to broadcaster CNN-Turk on Friday.

The guard are members of the special forces regiment stationed at the presidential palace in Ankara. There are at least 2,500 members, according to local media.

The government also announced that 10,800 passports had been suspended over "flight risks" following last Friday's attempted coup.

That number included close to 10,000 green/grey (official) passports held by civil servants, the government said.

More than 50,000 people have been arrested or sacked from state institutions since last Friday's attempted coup.

The arrests as Turkey's Interior Ministry was charged with overseeing all future appoints and promotions of the country's internal security force instead of the military.

"We will bring the gendarmerie under full interior ministry control," Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Friday, adding that the existing system was "problematic" and needs restructuring.

"We need to break the monopoly on power. We will be in charge of appointments and development."

The gendarmerie is a branch of the country's armed forces responsible for local policing. There are currently an estimated 199,000 soldiers serving in the command, with lower ranks consisting of conscripts.

The shift in responsibility comes a day after a state of emergency was imposed in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing to shake up the country's military following a failed coup a week ago.

“Within a very short amount of time a new structure will be emerging,” Erdogan said of Turkey's armed forces.

“With this new structure, I believe the armed forces will get fresh blood,” he said.

A court in Ankara jailed around 85 generals or admirals, around a quarter of the total, for links to the coup plot.

At least 6,000 less high-ranking soldiers and 2,700 judges and prosecutors have also been arrested, while 8,800 police officers and 15,000 employees of the Education Ministry have been dismissed in the wake of the attempted coup.

Erdogan also said that 15 July – the date of the attempted coup – will be commemorated annually as a “Memorial for the Martyrs” to remember the at least 246 people who were killed when armed forces attempted to storm key sites across the capital and in ensuing street battles.

“The coming generations – civilians, police and military – will not forget our heroic martyrs who fell on the democratic revolution on 15 July,” he told reporters, announcing an annual memorial to be commemorated on the same day.

Crowds assemble

Crowds of thousands gathered on Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey's second city Istanbul on Thursday night to show their support for the government and their opposition to the coup attempt.

The Bosphorus Bridge between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul was one of the key battlegrounds in the coup attempt last Friday night, as rebel soldiers descended in tanks to block it to traffic, only to be countered by protesters who descended in force.

Responding to a call by Erdogan not to stop protests against the coup, his supporters filled the massive bridge on Thursday night to denounce the putsch less than a week after it was beaten.

Many carried lit torches and nationalist signs like "Our flag, our nation" and brandished slogans denouncing the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who Ankara blames for the coup.

The mass demonstration came a few hours after Turkey's parliament approved a three-month state of emergency, with opposition politicians joining members of the ruling AKP to back the bill.

A state of emergency strengthens state powers to round up suspects and restrict rights to freedom of movement.

Erdogan said the emergency law will allow Turkey to be cleared of "terrorists" linked to US-based Muslim preacher, whom he accuses of orchestrating the failed coup from his leafy compound in Pennsylvania.

EU criticism

The EU on Thursday night expressed “concern” over the law, slamming what it called “unacceptable decisions” taken in Turkey following the coup attempt.

"We are following the developments regarding the state of emergency Turkey has declared after the attempted coup, which the European Union condemned, very closely and with concern," said a statement jointly issued by the bloc's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

"This declaration comes in the wake of the recent unacceptable decisions on the education system, judiciary and the media... we call on Turkish authorities to respect under any circumstances the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right of all individuals concerned to a fair trial," the strongly worded statement added.

But Erdogan insisted democracy would "not be compromised" and lashed out at critics of the sweeping purge that has raised deep concerns about democracy and human rights in the key NATO member.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the special measures may only last up to 45 days, insisting that "we want to end the state of emergency as soon as possible".

Erdogan, however, hinted that the laws could be kept in place beyond the originally planned three months, telling Reuters on Thursday night that there is “no obstacle” to extending the powers.