A US-based Turkish cleric accused of plotting a coup to overthrow the Ankara government has claimed President Recep Erdogan staged the rebellion himself to justify a major clampdown on opposition forces.
Fethullah Gulen, who was a former key ally of Erdogan has been blamed by the politician of using his contacts to develop a ‘parallel structure’ to overthrow the state.
Erdogan has called on US President Barack Obama to extradite Gulen, who is based in Pennsylvania.
In response to the attempted rebellion, Turkish authorities have detained 2,745 judges and prosecutors whose loyalty to the regime has been questioned.
Also, some 2,839 soldiers – including the head of the Third Army Corps in Istanbul, General Erdal Ozturk – have been arrested.
PM Binali Yildrim described the plot, which claimed the lives of 161 civilians with 1,440 wounded, as a ‘black stain on Turkish democracy’.
Speaking from his home, Gulen claimed democracy in Turkey could not be achieved through military action.
He condemned the plot, although authorities in Ankara are not convinced.
He said: ‘There is a slight chance, there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup. It could be meant for court accusations and associations.’
He added: ‘It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organisation that is not under their total control.’
President Erdogan told a crowd chanting for the death penalty on Saturday that such demands may be discussed in parliament after a coup attempt by a faction in the military killed at least 161 people.
Looking relaxed and smiling, giving an occasional thumbs up to his supporters in Istanbul, Erdogan said the coup attempt had been carried out by a minority in the army.
He said: ‘The army is ours, not that of the parallel structure. I am chief commander.’
Earlier Erdogan urged the US to extradite Gulen claiming Turkey never turned down an extradition request from Washington for ‘terrorists’.
He said: ‘I say if we are strategic partners then you should bring about our request.’
Secretary of State John Kerry said: ‘We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen. And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately.’
A Turkish government official said the government ‘has been preparing a formal application with detailed information about Gulen’s involvement in illegal activities. After last night, we have one more thing to add to an already extensive list’.
Gulen is understood to maintain significant support among some members of the military and mid-level bureaucrats. His movement called Hizmet includes think tanks, schools and various media enterprises. Gulen and Erdogan only became estranged in recent years.
In a statement, Gulen said he condemned, ‘in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey.’
He said: ‘Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” he said. “I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.’
Gulen sharply rejected any responsibility: ‘As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.’
In an incredibly rare interview, Gulen said he would never return to Turkey because he would fear being ‘persecuted and harassed’.
Speaking from his home in Pennsylvania, Gulen said: ‘This is a tranquil and clean place and I enjoy and I live my freedom here. Longing for my homeland burns in my heart, but freedom is also equally important. If I were to send him a message, he would probably consider it as a slur and reject it,’
He added: ‘But I have always prayed for myself and for him. I have prayed to God to lead us to the straight path, to the virtuous path.’