Turkey fires thousands from government jobs amid crackdown after coup attempt

The Turkish government on Tuesday escalated its wide-ranging crackdown against people it claims have ties to the alleged coup plotters, firing thousands and demanding the resignations of more.

White House says Obama wouldn't make decision on extraditing U.S.-based cleric

A supporter of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan takes part in a pro-government demonstration in Sarachane park in Istanbul on Tuesday. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have discussed U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen's status during a telephone call.

Apart from the conversation Tuesday, Turkey provided the U.S. government with documents that were being reviewed to determine whether it amounted to a formal extradition request for Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.

Turkey has blamed Gulen for being behind the failed military coup which began July 15, a charge that Gulen denies.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama made clear to Erdogan that "the United States doesn't support terrorists. The United States doesn't support individuals who conspire to overthrow democratically elected governments. The United States follows the rule of law."

Earnest said a decision about whether to extradite Gulen will be made not by Obama, but according to a long-standing extradition treaty between the U.S. and Turkey.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has strongly suggested that the government is considering reinstating the death penalty, which was abolished in 2004. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Meanwhile, the Turkish government on Tuesday escalated its wide-ranging crackdown against people it claims have ties to the alleged coup plotters, firing thousands and demanding the resignations of more.

The dismissals touched many branches of government:

  • 24,000 teachers and interior ministry employees suspended 
  • 15,200 suspended from education ministry
  • 8,777 fired from the Board of Higher Education
  • 1,577 university deans being asked to resign
  • 492 fired from the directorate of religious affairs
  • 393 dismissed from the ministry of family and social policy
  • 257 staff booted from the prime minister's office

Tuesday's firings come on top of the roughly 9,000 people who have been detained by the government, including security personnel, judges, prosecutors, religious figures and others.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency says courts have ordered 85 generals and admirals jailed, including top Air Force adviser, Lt. Col. Erkan Kivrak. They are awaiting trial over their roles in the coup attempt. Dozens of others were still being questioned.

Thousands of officials suspected of links to Gulen, meanwhile, were purged from the judiciary and the Interior Ministry.

Academics barred from leaving Turkey

In addition, thousands of academics received emails from the Higher Education Council, which governs all public and private post-secondary institutions, announcing restrictions on their travel on Monday afternoon, the CBC's Nil Köksal reported.

Professors at Istanbul Kultur University received emails with the subject line "International trips IMPORTANT!"

The emails advised the academics that, "Until further notice, for whatever reason, international trips have been stopped; it has been decided academics who are outside the country right now should return within a short time."

More Erdogan supporters demonstrate in Istanbul Tuesday. Thousands of government workers have been suspended from their jobs amid a crackdown following the coup attempt. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

The council's website posted a statement Monday that said the new steps were "needed to cleanse our academic community of the 'parallel state' elements."

The violence surrounding the Friday night coup attempt claimed the lives of 208 government supporters and 24 coup plotters, according to the government.

UN voices 'serious alarm' at mass suspensions

The top United Nations human rights official urged Turkey on Tuesday to uphold the rule of law in the wake of the failed coup and voiced "serious alarm" at the mass suspension of judges and prosecutors.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein also called for independent observers to visit places of detention in Turkey to check on conditions, and for detainees to have access to lawyers and their families.

"In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible," Zeid said in a statement.

Reintroduction of the death penalty would be in breach of Turkey's obligations under international human rights law — a big step in the wrong direction.- Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The president and other officials have strongly suggested the government is considering reinstating the death penalty, a practice abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Several European officials have said such a move would be the end of Turkey's attempts to join.

"Reintroduction of the death penalty would be in breach of Turkey's obligations under international human rights law — a big step in the wrong direction," Zeid said.

Addressing hundreds of supporters outside his Istanbul residence early Tuesday, Erdogan responded to calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty with the simple statement: "You cannot put aside the people's demands."

"In a country where our youths are killed with tanks and bombs, if we stay silent, as political people we will be held responsible in the afterlife," Erdogan said, pointing out that capital punishment exists around the world, including in the United States and China.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday that the government will remove the Gulen movement 'by its roots' so that it can never betray the Turkish people again. (Associated Press)

"No democracy shall allow for soldiers, prosecutors, police, judges, and bureaucrats to take orders from an outside organization instead of the institutional bureaucracy," said Erdogan.

Speaking to parliament, the chairman of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahceli, said his party would back legislation to reintroduce the death penalty if it was put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

"If the AKP is ready, we are in for the death penalty," Bahceli said.

Top generals deny involvement

Anadolu Agency said Tuesday those formally arrested include former air force commander Gen. Akin Ozturk, alleged to be the ringleader of the July 15 uprising, and Gen. Adem Hududi, commander of Turkey's 2nd Army, which is in charge of countering possible threats to Turkey from Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Ozturk has denied the allegation, saying he neither planned nor directed the failed military coup, according to the Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan has made a series of televised appearances in which he disclosed dramatic details of his survival on the night of a failed coup and raised the spectre of reintroducing the death penalty to punish conspirators.

He told U.S. broadcaster CNN on Monday that he narrowly escaped death after coup plotters stormed the resort town of Marmaris where he was vacationing.

With files from Nil Köksal and Reuters