Turkey suspends 12,800 police officers from duty

Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to strengthen his grip on power after July's failed military coup

(Image credit: YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey has suspended 12,800 police officers from duty, a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to extend the country's state of emergency by 90 days.

Authorities claim those suspended were directly linked to Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled Muslim cleric the Turkish government believes was behind July's failed military coup.

Police officials said those suspended, who include 2,523 police chiefs, were allegedly "in cohesion with or connected to" Gulen's movement, reports the New York Times.

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There are around 250,000 members of the Turkish police force in total.

By extending the state of emergency, President Erdogan will continue to hold the extraordinary powers he assumed following the attempted coup, including the power to make decisions that cannot be overturned by the Constitutional Court, Turkey's highest legal body.

"The extension means we are still taking certain steps to address vital challenges to our democracy," said a Turkish official.

About 100,000 people in the military, civil service, police and judiciary have been sacked or suspended in the post-coup crackdown and some 32,000 people arrested for their alleged role in the abortive putsch, reports Reuters.

Erdogan has suggested he favours an indefinite extension of such powers, something human rights groups have condemned, believing he is using the uprising as a "pretext to curtail all dissent and to intensify his actions against suspected Kurdish militant sympathisers", says The Independent.

"The government is using the coup to hush up its critics. It's not explicable within the legal framework," one prominent Turkish lawyer told the BBC.

Euphrates Shield: Turkey sends troops and tanks into Syria

22 August

Turkey has launched a major ground offensive in Syria, sending armoured vehicles, artillery and special forces soldiers to join opposition groups attempting to root out Islamic State (IS) militants.

The offensive, known as Euphrates Shield, is a joint operation with the Free Syrian Army to take back Jarabalus, an IS-occupied town which at its closest point lies only yards from the Turkish border.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Turkish forces opened up artillery bombardment and air strikes on Jarabalus, while tanks and armoured vehicles rolled over the border to join 500 fighters from anti-Assad opposition groups.

Within the first few hours of fighting, Turkish media reports, the Free Syrian Army captured the neighbouring village of Kaklijah and was expected to move on to Jarabalus.

Turkey's new offensive marks a significant escalation of its intervention in the Syrian conflict, something the US-led coalition and Nato allies have long urged. The renewed effort begins days after a child suicide bomber killed at least 54 people at a wedding in Gaziantep, the latest in a string of deadly attacks on civilians in Turkey that is blamed on IS.

"Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders, and we are ready to do what it takes for that," foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, ahead of the operation.

However, it is not only IS strongholds in Turkey's sights – the government is equally concerned with Kurdish fighters attempting to consolidate their territorial gains near the Turkish border, Bloomberg reports.

After a violent 30-year battle to contain its own Kurdish separatists, Turkey is keen to keep the Kurdish militias battling IS away from their own front door.

In a speech in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the operation as an effort to "protect Syria's territorial integrity" against both IS empire-building and Kurdish ambitions to carve an autonomous homeland out of the war-torn nation.

Turkey wedding bomber 'could be as young as 12 years old'

22 August

A bomber who killed more than 50 people at a wedding in Turkey on Saturday was no older than 14 and could have been as young as 12, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It is not yet known whether the boy blew himself up or the bomb was detonated remotely.

Speaking on TV yesterday, the President blamed Islamic State for the attack in the southern city of Gaziantep, which has so far claimed the lives of 51 and injured nearly 100.

Mahmut Togrul, an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, told Reuters one of its members had been getting married when the bomber struck. The bride and groom were among those hurt, but their injuries are not serious, says Turkish media. Most of the victims are believed to be Kurdish.

A destroyed suicide vest has been discovered at the scene.

At least 12 people were buried yesterday, but other funerals have been delayed due to the difficulty of identifying the bodies. Security sources say DNA forensics would have to be used.

Turkish authorities have "issued a media blackout on coverage of the attack until the investigation is completed", says The Independent.

The blast is the deadliest terrorist incident in the country this year and follows a string of attacks blamed on IS or claimed by the outlawed Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) or its radical offshoot, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks.

Questions are being asked about why Islamic extremists would target a predominantly Kurdish area, but "some analysts have pointed to IS having recently lost swathes of territory in northern Syria to Syrian-Kurdish fighters as a possible motivator for revenge attacks against Kurds", says The Guardian.

Since the last IS attack on Istanbul's airport in June, in which more than 40 people died, the jihadists have lost the former Syrian stronghold of Manbij. "If the bomb was the work of IS, there will speculation it was a revenge attack, intended as a show of strength by a group on the defensive," says the BBC's Mark Lowen.

Erdogan said the perpetrators were trying to "provoke people by abusing ethnic and sectarian sensitiveness". He also refused to differentiate between IS and the PKK or followers of Fetullah Gulen, the cleric blamed for last month's failed coup.

Sweden accuses Turkey of legalising child sex

16 August

Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom has accused Turkey of making the decision to "allow sex with children under 15", sparking a war of words between the two countries.

Wallstrom's statement, made on her official Twitter account, comes after Ankara withdrew a criminal code provision that punished all sexual acts involving children under the age of 15.

However, despite the annulment of the criminal code, Turkey's age of consent remains at 18 years of age. Turkish lawmakers say they brought the petition against the code because they were concerned that the current statute offered no distinction between cases of sexual acts with a teenager compared to those with younger children, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Turkey responded angrily to the allegation, with the foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu telling reporters it was "unacceptable."

"A foreign minister should not tell lies and should not adopt an approach accusing Turkey," Cavusoglu said. "Yes to criticism but this is a slander, a lie."

Deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek also took to Twitter to denounce Wallstrom's accusation and the head of the Swedish mission in Ankara was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry to explain the comments.

"The uneasiness and disappointment that we have felt were expressed during the meeting," Turkish diplomatic sources told the Hurriyet Daily News.

A similar headline was displayed on a news ticker at Vienna airport by Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung but removed after complaints from Ankara, The Local reports.

The issue has increased tensions between Turkey and Sweden and Austria, as Turkish officials continue to face strong resistance in their ongoing bid for membership of the European Union.

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