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Turkey's Erdogan sets stage for return of death penalty as thousands detained following failed coup

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave signals that Turkey might reinstate capital punishment in the wake of Friday's failed attempted coup, while the country's justice minister says some 6,000 people have been detained.

'Some 6,000 detentions have taken place. The number could surpass 6,000,' says justice minister

CBC's Nahlah Ayed has more reaction from Istanbul, where funerals were held for those killed in Friday's attempted coup 2:19

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave signals that Turkey might reinstate capital punishment in the wake of Friday's failed attempted coup, while the country's justice minister says some 6,000 people have been detained.

Erdogan spoke to supporters in front of his Istanbul residence Sunday evening. His speech was punctuated by frequent calls of "we want the death penalty" from the large crowd, to which Erdogan responded: "We hear your request. In a democracy, whatever the people want they will get."

Adding that the government will be in contact with Turkey's opposition parties to review the position on capital punishment, he said "We will not delay this decision for long. Because those who attempt a coup in this country must pay."

Turkey hasn't executed anyone since 1984 and capital punishment was legally abolished in 2004 as part of its bid to join the European Union.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in a television interview on Sunday that "the cleansing [operation] is continuing. Some 6,000 detentions have taken place. The number could surpass 6,000."

Relatives mourn over the coffin of Omer Cenkatar, who was killed in Turkey's thwarted coup attempt, during a memorial service Sunday in Istanbul. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

Funeral ceremonies and prayers for those killed in Friday's attempted coup were held in Ankara and Istanbul on Sunday, where relatives were beside themselves with grief. Prayers were read simultaneously from Turkey's 85,000 mosques at noon to honour the victims. 

At least 265 people were killed and over 1,400 were wounded. Government officials said at least 104 conspirators were killed. 

Bozdag said he was confident that the United States would return Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey. The Turkish president has blamed Gulen and his followers for the failed military coup on Friday night, but Gulen has denied any involvement in or knowledge about the attempted coup.

'I really wish I was home right now,' says Steve Kozak, a Torontonian living in Ankara with his wife and 3-year-old daughter 2:49

Gulen lives in exile in Pennsylvania and has said he condemns "in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey" and sharply rejected any responsibility for the attempted coup.

"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."

"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," he added.

The U.S. said it will look at any evidence Turkey has to offer against Gulen, and judge accordingly.

Bozdag said "the United States would weaken itself by protecting him, it would harm its reputation. I don't think that at this hour, the United States would protect someone who carried out this act against Turkey."

Relatives of Turkish geologist Cuma Dag, 39, who was killed by helicopter gunfire last Friday while protesting against the attempted coup against Turkey's government, mourn during his funeral in Ankara. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

The Turkish government has also issued dozens of arrest warrants for judges and prosecutors and detained military officers. Three of the country's top generals have been detained, alongside hundreds of soldiers. The government has also dismissed nearly 3,000 judges and prosecutors from their posts, while investigators were preparing court cases to send the conspirators to trial on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.  

Concern over crackdowns

The botched coup, which saw warplanes fly over key government installations and tanks roll up in major cities briefly, ended hours later when loyal government forces  — including military and police — regained control of the military and civilians took to the streets in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The government crackdowns in the aftermath of the coup attempt have raised concerns over the future of democracy in Turkey, which has long prided itself on its democratic and secular traditions despite being in a region swept by conflict and extremism. 

Erdogan's survival has turned him into a "sort of a mythical figure" and could further erode democracy in Turkey, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at The Washington Institute. 
 
"It will allow him to crack down on liberty and freedom of association, assembly, expression and media in ways that we haven't seen before," he said. 
 
Before the chaos, Turkey — a NATO member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — had been wracked by political turmoil that critics blamed on Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule. He has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissidents, restricted the news media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels. 

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