Forces loyal to the Turkish government fought on Saturday to crush the remnants of a military coup attempt which crumbled after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets and dozens of rebels abandoned their tanks.
More than 90 people were killed in violence that erupted late on Friday after a faction of the armed forces attempted to seize power using tanks and attack helicopters, some strafing the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in Ankara, others seizing a major bridge in Istanbul.
Erdogan appeared to accuse the coup plotters of trying to kill him, and promised to purge the armed forces which in the past have staged a number of successful coups. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”
Turkish authorities have already detained around 1,500 members of the armed forces, officials said. Chief of staff Hulusi Akar, who had been reported held hostage by the rebels, has been rescued, a senior official said.
A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would have marked one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years, transforming a major U.S. ally while war rages on its border.
However, a failed coup attempt could still destabilise a NATO member that lies between the European Union and the chaos of Syria, with Islamic State bombers targeting Turkish cities and the government also at war with Kurdish separatists.
Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and was shown on TV outside Ataturk Airport.
Addressing a crowd of thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport later, Erdogan said the government remained at the helm, although disturbances continued in Ankara.
Erdogan, whose Islamist-rooted ideology lies deeply at odds with supporters of modern Turkey’s secular principles, said the plotters had tried to attack him in the resort town of Marmaris.
“They bombed places I had departed right after I was gone,” he said. “They probably thought we were still there.”
The death toll has risen to 90, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, with 1,154 people wounded.
Turkish authorities have detained 1,563 military personnel across the country.