Turkey suspends 12,800 police, shuts TV channel

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  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
    Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
    President of Turkey

Ankara (AFP) - Turkey on Tuesday suspended 12,800 police officers over alleged links to an Islamic preacher accused of masterminding the failed July coup, and cut broadcasts of a pro-Kurdish television channel under its controversial state of emergency.

Tens of thousands have already been arrested or lost their jobs under the three three-month state of emergency which was declared days after the July 15 coup and was extended on Monday a further 90 days to last well into 2017.

Officers entered IMC TV headquarters and cut broadcasts after it was ordered, along with several other outlets, to be closed last week under the emergency laws over accusations of supporting Kurdish militants.

A total of 12,801 police were suspended from duty as part of the investigation into the coup attempt, including 2,523 police chiefs, the police headquarters said in a statement.

In total, Turkey has around 270,000 police officers.

A Turkish official, who did not wish to be named, confirmed the suspensions, adding that the individuals would continue to be paid two-thirds of their salary "pending further investigation".

The action was taken over suspected links to the movement of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen which Turkey blames for the failed putsch in July which sought to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.

Gulen, an ally-turned-foe of Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, strongly denies Ankara's accusations.

Supporters of the Gulen movement, also known as Hizmet (service), insist it is a loose grouping of individuals committed to peace and helping people through education and charities.

- Crackdown widens -

According to Anadolu, 1,350 of the police officers suspended were working at Ankara police headquarters, which came under attack from the air on the night of the coup.

Among those dismissed, a 26-year-old police officer shot himself dead Tuesday in Mersin, a southern city on the Mediterranean coast, Dogan news agency reported.

Tens of thousands of people in the judiciary, civil service, military and education sector have been suspended while 32,000 suspects have been placed under arrest on charges of links to the movement.

A total of 70,000 people had been investigated, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said last month, adding that the "process" continued.

From teachers to former generals and admirals, from bakery magnates to journalists, the investigation into the failed putsch has touched almost all aspects of Turkish life.

Also under the state of emergency, Turkish police raided the Istanbul headquarters of prominent pro-Kurdish television channel IMC TV, cutting all transmissions while it was live on air.

Before it was cut, staff members in the news studio chanted "free media will not be silenced" while applauding their management.

The channel is not accused of supporting the coup but of broadcasting "terror propaganda" for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). It has ridiculed the charges.

Later on Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators including journalists from the channel and other outlets subject to closure orders last week gathered near Taksim Square in Istanbul to protest against the raid.

Despite a heavy police presence, they did not intervene as protesters shouted "IMC TV cannot be shut down" and carried placards saying: "Free media cannot be silenced", AFP correspondents said.

Activists accuse the government of exploiting the emergency laws to launch a crackdown beyond those accused of being coup-plotters or connected to the movement.

More than 100 media outlets have been closed down since July while dozens of reporters have been detained or arrested including prominent journalist and writer Ahmet Altan.

The government's crackdown has also alarmed Turkey's Western allies, including the European Union, which have warned Ankara that it must act within the rule of law.

- 'No matter who' -

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said those found guilty would face punishment "no matter who they were" during a speech to parliament in Ankara.

"(But) we will never allow those who are innocent to face any grievances."

The decision to extend the state of emergency by three months was announced on Monday after a cabinet meeting.

Erdogan previously suggested that it might be necessary for the state of emergency to be kept in place for at least 12 months.

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin strongly denied the government was acting arbitrarily under the emergency.

"The president previously said something important when the first emergency was introduced: this is introduced for the state and not against the people," he said in an interview with Haber-Turk television.

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