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Australians warned off travelling to Turkey


Turkey’s foreign minister has offered assurances his government is back in control after an attempted military coup, but Australians are still being warned to reconsider travel to Istanbul and Ankara amid chaotic scenes in those cities.

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Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the Nine Network today there were significant delays for people wanting to leave Turkey, but the Government is doing everything to provide support, as are the airlines and travel agents.

About 1400 Australians are believed to be in Turkey.

Bishop noted the country had a very complex society made up of Islamists, Kurd, secularists.

“What was interesting about this coup, it was not backed by Turkey’s secular political military and civilian opposition,” she told Seven Network.

“It is said to have been plotted by an Islamist division within the military.”

The Minister did not respond directly to a question about whether Turkey will remain a reliable ally for the US and Australia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

US-led missions against IS in Syria and Iraq are being launched out of Turkey from the Incirlik air base in the south-east. As the coup in Turkey erupted on Saturday, the base was sealed off by local authorities and the power was reportedly cut off.

Among those arrested following the coup attempt were commander of the Incirlik air base, General Bekir Ercan Van, and President Recep Tayyip  Erdogan’s chief military assistant.

Turkey has widened the crackdown on suspected supporters of the uprising, taking the number of people rounded up in the armed forces and judiciary to 6000.

Supporters of President Erdogan gathered in front of his Istanbul home on Sunday to call for the plotters to face the death penalty, which Turkey outlawed in 2004 as part of its efforts to join the European Union.

“We cannot ignore this demand,” Erdogan told the chanting crowd. “In democracies, whatever the people say has to happen.”

Pictures on social media showed detained soldiers stripped from the waist up, some wearing only their underpants, handcuffed and lying packed together on the floor of a sports hall where they were being held in Ankara.

One video on Twitter showed detained generals with bruises and bandages. Akin Ozturk, head of the air force until 2015 and identified by three senior officials as one of the suspected masterminds of the coup plot, was among those held.

The Foreign Ministry raised the death toll to more than 290, including more than 100 rebels, and said 1400 people were hurt.

The violence shocked the nation of almost 80 million, once seen as a model Muslim democracy, where living standards have risen steadily for more than a decade and where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago.

It also shattered fragile confidence among Turkey’s allies about security in the NATO country, a leading member of the US-led coalition against Islamic State.

Turkey had already been hit by repeated suicide bombings over the past year and is struggling to contain an insurgency by Kurdish separatists.

With expectations growing of heavy measures against dissent, European politicians warned Erdogan that the coup attempt did not give him a blank cheque to disregard the rule of law, and that he risked isolating himself internationally as he strengthens his position at home.

Broadcaster NTV cited Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying more arrests were expected.

Authorities have rounded up nearly 3000 suspected military plotters, ranging from top commanders to foot soldiers, and the same number of judges and prosecutors after forces loyal to Erdogan crushed the attempted coup on Saturday.

On Sunday, security forces clashed with remnants of the coup plotters at Istanbul’s second airport and at an air base in central Turkey, an official said. Arrests were made and the situation was under control, the official said.

Erdogan said the coup had been put down by the “national will”, blaming “those who cannot bear the unity of our country and are under the orders of masterminds to take over the state”.

He frequently refers to “masterminds” who he says are bent on breaking up Turkey, in what appears a veiled reference to the West in general, and more specifically, the United States.

On Saturday, Labour Minister Suleyman Soylu told broadcaster Haberturk he believed Washington was behind the coup attempt.

US Secretary of State John Kerry described public suggestions of a US role as “utterly false”, and said on Sunday Washington had had no advance intelligence of the coup.

The Pentagon also announced that operations from Turkey by the US-led coalition against Islamic State had resumed after Ankara reopened its air space, which had been closed during the coup attempt.

The crackdown intensifies a long-standing push by Erdogan to root out the influence of followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan accuses followers of Gulen, who was once an ally but is now his arch-enemy, of trying to create a “parallel structure” within the courts, police, armed forces and media with an aim to topple the state.

The cleric has denied this and said he played no role in the attempted coup, denouncing it as an affront to democracy.

Erdogan’s critics say he will use the purge to create a pliant judiciary, eliminating dissenting voices in the courts.


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