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Turkish interior ministry takes over key security force in wake of coup

Change in oversight of the gendarmerie comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promises 'fresh blood' in the armed forces
Turkish PM Binali Yildirim shakes hands with Turkish police officers in Ankara (AFP/Turkish PM Press Office)

Turkey's Interior Ministry will oversee all future appoints and promotions of the country's internal security force instead of the military, Interior Minister Efkan Ala announced on Friday.

"We will bring the gendarmerie under full interior ministry control," 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.

Meanwhile, 286 soldiers from the presidential guard were arrested on Friday evening shortly after arrest warrants were issued for 300 of them.

At least 10,000 passports have been declared void, Ala also said on Friday.

Ala said that 10,856 passports were cancelled because the holders presented a flight risk. Out of these close to 10,000 passports are labelled official, which are given to civil servants, he said.

He also added that most of the holders of these passports were either in custody or on the run but didn’t provide more details.

 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.

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