Turkish jets scrambled Wednesday to stop two coastguard vessels heading for Greek waters, five days after a failed coup against the government, local media reported.
The air force planes took off from Turkish bases for “an operation against two Turkish coastguard boats identified as attempting to cross into Greek territorial waters,” said the private Dogan news agency.
It was not yet clear whether the vessels in the sensitive maritime region in the Aegean Sea were carrying suspected coup plotters, and a Turkish government official said he could not immediately confirm the report.
The government has cracked down hard on rebel soldiers, formally arresting 99 of 118 detained generals and admirals, and also placing in custody thousands of troops, with some later seen bruised and wounded.
Eight Turkish military officers fled to Greece in the immediate wake of Friday’s failed coup that had sought to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The eight — two commanders, four captains and two sergeants who have applied for asylum in Greece — have denied any involvement and insist that they fled from Turkey to save their lives after coming under police fire.
The men, who arrived in Greece by military helicopter on Saturday after sending a distress signal to authorities at the airport in the northern city of Alexandroupolis, are to face trial for illegal entry on Thursday.
Erdogan chairs security council as 50,000 hit by Turkey purge
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday chaired a crunch security meeting for the first time since the failed coup, as global alarm grew over a widening purge that has seen around 50,000 people either detained or sacked.
The Turkish air force meanwhile launched its first strikes since Friday’s abortive putsch against targets of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, in a sign Erdogan has regained full control over the armed forces.
The coup bid by rebel soldiers was the most serious blow to Erdogan’s 13-year domination of Turkey, and the president has said he came within 15 minutes of being killed or kidnapped by the plotters before escaping.
The putsch left more than 300 people dead and caused scenes of devastation, especially in Ankara where raids by fighter jets and attack helicopters on strategic targets terrified residents and turned parts of parliament and the police headquarters to rubble.
The president returned to the capital late Tuesday for the first time since the coup and was chairing a meeting at his presidential palace of his national security council, composed of top military brass and security ministers.
He will then chair a cabinet meeting, also at the palace, the immediate vicinity of which was bombed during the military power grab.
Erdogan was in the Aegean resort of Marmaris when the coup struck and then flew to Istanbul where he had stayed since, appearing before supporters each night in a “vigil” for democracy.
He told supporters in Istanbul on Monday that “an important decision” would be announced after the security meeting, without specifying.
‘Flout the rule of law’
About 9,300 people have been detained, including 118 generals and admirals accused of treason for allegedly masterminding the plot as well as soldiers, police and judges.
In total, about 48,800 state employees, including police and teachers, have been dismissed from their posts or detained, according to figures published by the Hurriyet daily and broadcaster CNN Turk.
On Tuesday, the government suspended 15,200 state education employees and demanded the resignation of almost 1,600 deans from private and state universities over alleged links to Gulen.
Also, 21,000 people working in private education will have their licenses removed and will be banned from teaching in the future, Hurriyet said.
Turkey’s higher education council also banned academics from work trips abroad and urged those overseas to quickly return home. Even the sports ministry has dismissed 245 employees, state media said.
The latest moves amplified international concern Erdogan was using the coup plot as a pretext to crack down on opponents, with Turkey’s Western allies urging the authorities in the strategic NATO state to obey the rule of law.
“Nearly every day we are seeing new measures that flout the rule of law and that disregard the principle of proportionality,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.
Erdogan’s suggestion that the death penalty could be reinstated has sent shockwaves through Europe, with the EU warning such a move would be the nail in the coffin of Turkey’s already embattled bid to join the bloc.
‘Coup claims ridiculous’
Ankara says the coup was masterminded by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and the massive crackdown appears to be targeting individuals suspected of any connection to Erdogan’s ally-turned-foe.
Turkey accuses Gulen of running a “terror group” and has stepped up pressure on Washington to extradite him, sending several “dossiers” it says are packed with evidence about his alleged involvement.
Gulen issued a statement Tuesday urging Washington to reject the extradition call and dismissed as “ridiculous” the claim he was behind the botched coup.
The 75-year-old reclusive cleric lives in Pennsylvania but retains vast interests in Turkey ranging from media to finance to schools and wields influence in various arms of the state, including the judiciary and police.
In their first telephone conversation since the attempted overthrow, President Barack Obama pledged US assistance to Erdogan for the investigation into the putsch, which has threatened to once again raise tensions between the uneasy NATO allies.
MPs have meanwhile carried on working in parliament, despite rubble and shards of glass still covering the floor after three air strikes on the night of the coup.
Ankara’s police headquarters is in an even worse state, with the 10-storey building gutted by repeated air attacks and the air still thick with dust from the rubble.
“I do not know how long the rebuilding will take. But we have started,” a senior police official told AFP at the scene.
The government says 312 people were killed in the coup, including 145 civilians, 60 police, three soldiers and 104 plotters.
Before the plot erupted, the government had been waging a relentless military campaign against Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country and their rear bases in northern Iraq.
In the first air strikes since the coup, fighter jets late Tuesday hit targets of the PKK in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq, said the state-run Anadolu news agency, quoting security sources. It claimed 20 fighters were killed.