Turks mass to condemn coup amid torture claims

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Many thousands of flag-waving Turks massed Sunday for the first cross-party rally to condemn the coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid a purge of suspected state enemies.

Istanbul s Taksim square was transformed into a sea of red national flags in what was dubbed a “democracy festival” that brought together the ruling Islamic-conservative and opposition secular camps.

In stark contrast to the broadly celebratory mood in Istanbul, human rights group Amnesty International in London claimed it had “credible evidence” of the beating and torture of detainees.

The official number of those in custody since the July 15 putsch has surged above 13,000 soldiers, police, justice officials and civilians in a wave of arrests that has alarmed NATO allies and European leaders.

Despite the high tensions since the coup attempt, the mood at the Istanbul rally was strongly patriotic, while security was tight following a series of recent attacks by Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish militants.

“We defend the republic and democracy” read one sign in the vast and jubilant crowd, while others declared “Sovereignty belongs to the people alone” and “No to the coup, yes to democracy!”

Several banners also protested the post-coup state of emergency, with one proclaiming “No to the coup, no to dictatorship” and another saying “Turkey is secular and will remain so”.

The mass event was called by the biggest opposition group, the secular and centre-left Republican People s Party (CHP), many of whose members carried pictures of modern Turkey s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

To signal national unity, the nationally-televised event was joined by Erdogan s Islamic-conservative AKP.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told the crowd that, amid all the turmoil, “the parliament stood proudly, Turkey stood proudly, lawmakers stood proudly, people in this square have stood proudly, and democracy won!”

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim tweeted that “this country s Turks, Kurds, Alevis” and supporters of the major opposition parties “united together and gave the lesson needed to the putschists”.

In London, Amnesty made serious claims about methods the government has allegedly used to rid the state of suspected conspirators.

Amnesty claimed it had “credible evidence” that some detainees were being “subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centres in the country”.

Amnesty said it had received reports that detainees were being denied food, water and medical treatment and being held in “stress positions” for up to 48 hours.

It said its report was based on interviews conducted with lawyers, doctors and one person on duty in a detention facility.

“Turkey is understandably concerned with public security at the moment, but no circumstances can ever justify torture and other ill-treatment or arbitrary detention,” said Amnesty s Europe director John Dalhuisen.

He urged the Turkish authorities to stop “these abhorrent practices” and allow international monitors into detention centres.

In Ankara, a senior official denied Amnesty s claims, saying: “The idea that Turkey, a country seeking European Union membership, would not respect the law is absurd”.

“We categorically deny the allegations and encourage advocacy groups to provide an unbiased account of the legal steps that are being taken against people who murdered nearly 250 civilians in cold blood.”

Turkey has undergone a seismic shift since the night of violence when renegade soldiers sought to topple Erdogan but were stopped by crowds of civilians and loyalist security forces.

In the latest reaction, Yildirim said Turkey would disband Erdogan s 2,500-strong Presidential Guard, almost 300 of whose members have been detained.

Under new emergency powers, those detained can be held without charge for 30 days.

Erdogan s government has also sacked thousands of teachers, professors and civil servants and closed schools and universities.

Also targeted in the sweep was Halis Hanci, an alleged senior aide to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen — the reclusive spiritual leader whom Turkey accuses of having orchestrated the plot to overthrow Erdogan.

The preacher — who lives in a secluded compound in rural Pennsylvania and whose foundation runs a global network of schools, charities and media interests — has strongly denied the accusations against him.