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Turkey orders arrest of 85 ministry staff in post-coup probe

At least 50,000 people have been formally arrested since a failed coup attempt in July each year
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions during the Belt and Road Forum, at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake, north of Beijing (AFP)

Turkish prosecutors ordered the arrest of 85 staff at the energy and education ministries as part of an investigation targeting the network alleged to be behind last July's attempted coup, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on Tuesday.

No further details were immediately available. Some 50,000 people have been formally arrested as part of investigations targeting supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, while 120,000 others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is visiting Washington, is seeking Gulen's extradition.

Since the botched July 2016 putsch, Erdogan’s government has purged Gulenists and other rivals, frozen their bank accounts and confiscated passports.

Last month, Erdogan declared victory in a referendum to grant him sweeping powers and conduct a major overhaul of Turkish politics. Overseas, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) has tracked down members of what it calls the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

Earlier this month, an MIT bust saw 16 alleged coup-plotters arrested while celebrating the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and deported to Turkey, according to Anadolu Agency (AA), a state-run Turkish news service.

Malaysian police have recently arrested three Turks on the grounds of national security, while earlier this year, nine Turkish army colonels were nabbed in the Turkish Cypriot capital, Nicosia, and deported at Ankara’s behest, according to AA.

Erdogan has also urged the US, its NATO ally, to extradite Gulen, 75, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and Ankara has supplied documents that it says show Gulen masterminded the coup – a charge the cleric denies.

Request for Gulen arrest

Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag this month asked US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to place Gulen under provisional arrest. Erdogan said he expected Trump to correct something his predecessor, Barack Obama, had “failed to do” by delivering the cleric.

Stepping up the pressure on multiple fronts, Turkish prosecutors have also launched a probe into 17 US officials, academics and others they suspect of being FETO-linked figures. They include New York Senator Chuck Schumer and former CIA director John Brennan.

Meanwhile, a US-based reporter for state-run Turkish media, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MEE that his colleagues were routinely directed to knock on the doors of Turkish Americans who were wanted by Turkish prosecutors and ask whether they would turn themselves in.

Sezai Kalayci, a Turkish-American who lost his job when Zaman, a Gulen-linked Turkish newspaper that was shut by the government in March 2016, told MEE he could not find a new reporting gig and now drove Uber taxis.

His sister fled Turkey and now shares his New York apartment, he said. “Whoever can reach here” from Erdogan’s purge of Gulenists was heading to the US and Canada, Kalayci said, but many have had their passports confiscated or cannot get visas.