President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday strongly rejected claims that a recent coup attempt was staged.
“Unfortunately, that is only misinformation. How can you plan such a thing? How can you allow so many civilians to lose their lives? How can human conscience allow that? That is beyond possible,” Erdogan said during an interview with CNN international.
“Tayyip Erdogan and his friends, his colleagues would be the first ones to reject that kind of idea. We risk our lives for the people,” he added.
Erdogan said those who tried to overthrow the government triggered the idea. “This Fetullah terrorist organization has now received the biggest hit they have ever,” he said.
The attempted takeover is alleged to have been organized by followers of Fetullah Gulen — a U.S.-based cleric in self-exile — who is accused of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the government through supporters within the Turkish state, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
Erdogan said he has raised the issue of Gulen’s extradition with the U.S. president.
“I had previously made this request to [Barack] Obama, just orally,” Erdogan said. “But, this week our written formal request will also be conveyed to the U.S. and also to a number of Western countries and African countries. We will be sending those requests formally.”
Asked about the possibility that Washington would refuse to extradite Gulen, Erdogan’s response suggests a similar stance going forward so long as he is the leader of Turkey. “First, we have to submit our formal request. We will ask for extradition. If there is no positive response to that formal request, if there is ever anyone criminal in the eyes of the U.S. and if they are going to ask for their extradition, as the president of the country I will not allow that,” he said.
“Even if he [Gulen] is a citizen of the U.S., the U.S. should not keep such a terrorist,” Erdogan said.
At pro-government rallies in Turkey this weekend following the failed coup, demands were made for the restoration of capital punishment for coup plotters whose actions caused the loss of 208 lives and injured almost 1,500 others.
“This issue now can be taken to the agenda of the parliament and it can be discussed there. We previously abolished it, but we can always go back and re-introduce it,” Erdogan said.
“There is a clear crime of treason. Your request [Turkish people] can never be ignored by our government. But the leaders have to come together and discuss it. If they accept to discuss it, then as the president I will approve any decision that comes out of the parliament.
Erdogan said he was with his wife, son-in-law and grandchildren on vacation in Marmaris, southwest of Turkey when the attempted putsch occurred.
“There is also the operation in Marmaris against me and two of my close bodyguards were martyred, they were killed. If I stayed 10 or 15 more minutes there, I would have been killed or captured.”
From the time he landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, F-16 jets began flying above his plane, Erdogan said.
Asked if at that moment did he think he was no longer the president of Turkey, Erdogan said it was never a consideration. “I did not have the idea cross my mind because I was with my colleagues and we never had that concern, never had trouble in thoughts.”
Turkey has come under criticism for what some perceive as a crackdown on the free press there. Erdogan posed a question to those who voice those claims.
“If some people keep saying that press is not still free in Turkey, then I want to say this. There has been a coup attempt in Turkey. There are people siding with the coup plotters. There are also media outlets that have been against the coup attempt,” he said.
“So, my question is that against the media that supported the coup, will the Turkish justice judicial system not take any steps? Of course it will. Why? Because if you are going to suppress the attempt, then those who are siding with the attempt should be taken to the right place, exposed to right type of treatment because otherwise the citizens, the people, would be deceived via misinformation,” he added.
“The people itself brought me to this position if I do not do anything they will hold me accountable when the time comes.”