State of emergency begins in Turkey with new arrests

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ISTANBUL – Turkey’s state of emergency began Thursday with a top official assuring the country that it would not harm the economy, democracy, or scare away investors, even as European nations expressed misgivings.

After a failed coup attempt last weekend, the government has initiated a wide-ranging crackdown, detaining and firing judges, military leaders and academics, culminating in a state of emergency that will be voted on by parliament Thursday.

“Life of ordinary people and businesses will go un-impacted, uninterrupted, business will be as usual,” Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Twitter.

One international ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, however, downgraded Turkey’s credit rating deeper into “junk” status citing the coup and resulting political turmoil, causing the country’s currency to fall and stocks plunge Thursday.

State media, meanwhile, has announced the detention of another 32 judges and two military officers, bring the number arrested to nearly 10,000.

European leaders have been increasingly uncomfortable with the crackdown – and now proposed state of emergency – out of fear it could violate human rights.

On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeiger said it would be in Turkey’s interest “to keep the state of emergency only for the duration that it is absolutely necessary.” He also warned against arresting people just on the basis of their political attitude rather than prpven role in the coup.

Austria, meahwhile, summoned Turkey’s ambassador and questioned him about the country’s future. “We want to clarify. . . which direction Turkey is going to take,” said Foreign Minister Sebatian Kurz in a radio interview cited by Reuters.

A senior Turkish official also said that law enforcement detained a member of the special forces squad that raided the Aegean Sea resort Erdogan had been staying at on the night of the coup. The special forces member was captured in the town of Ula in western Turkey, the official said, speaking anonymously in line with government protocol.

The official also denied reports detainees – including the alleged masterminds of the coup – had suffered abuse while in custody.

“During many arrests, fire was exchanged and there was resistance from coup plotters,” the official said. “Individuals in need of medical assistance receive necessary treatment.”

The United States and Europe have urged Turkey to follow the rule of law and maintain democratic order in the wake of the attempted power grab that saw a renegade part of the armed forces hijack aircraft and attack key military and government buildings last week. Turkey’s countermeasures have affected more than 50,000 people – judges, civil servants, military, police and others – as the country’s leaders seek to root out opponents and perceived internal dissent.

The government is presenting the measures as an effort to confront a wide-ranging conspiracy led by a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan whom Turkey accuses of running a terrorist organization. Critics, however, claim that Erdogan’s government is using the coup attempt as an excuse to eliminate the last vestiges of opposition to its rule.

“The cleansing is continuing, and we remain very determined,” Erdogan said. He described a “virus” within the Turkish military and state institutions that had spread like “cancer.”

Article 120 of the Turkish constitution allows for a state of emergency to be announced in the event of an act of violence intended to abolish democracy or cripple fundamental rights and freedoms, Erdogan said. The declaration will enable Turkey to “take the most efficient steps” in order to remove threats to “democracy, to the rule of law and to the freedoms of the citizens in our country,” he said.

The crackdown against alleged Gulenists has showed no signs of relenting and on Wednesday Turkey issued a ban on professional travel for all academics, opened investigations into military courts and closed schools.

Analysts have raised fears that Erdogan may be moving toward establishing a one-party state.

Gulen, the cleric accused of inspiring the coup attempt, has denied any link to the plot, implying instead that Erdogan staged it as part of a bid to consolidate power. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, and his backers operate education networks in Turkey, the United States and elsewhere.

Turkey has requested Gulen’s extradition from the United States.

In Washington, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the Justice Department has jurisdiction over the issue. “They will have to make their judgments applying our legal standards to whatever has been put forward,” he said.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Erin Cunningham