Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly reassured citizens early Saturday in Istanbul after a chaotic night in which factions of Turkey’s military said they had taken control of the country. Erdogan had apparently been on a plane that was held in the air while the attempted coup was underway, before landing in Istanbul. He had called for citizens to take to the streets in support of his democratically elected government, before emerging at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
Speaking to a large crowd outside the airport, Erdogan said the elected government was still in control of the country. “We are not going to compromise,” he said.
“The president, whom 52% of the people brought to power, is in charge. This government brought to power by the people, is in charge. They won’t succeed as long as we stand against them by risking everything.”
In televised remarks earlier on Saturday he referred to the attempted coup as an “uprising, a betrayal movement,” that originated from a small group within the military.
Within a few hours of the coup attempt, the country’s national intelligence spokesperson said it had been “repelled,” as Turkish residents heeded Erdogan’s call and filled public spaces as a statement of support.
According an official in Erdogan’s office 90 people, most of them civilians, were killed during the coup attempt, reports the Associated Press. Turkey’s Police Chief Celalettin Lekesiz said 16 of those responsible for the coup have been killed in clashes at Turkey’s military police command.
As the government said they were working to crush the coup, the state-run news agency Anadolu reported that more than 1,500 members of the armed forces had been arrested across the country. Earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said “things are getting better every minute,” adding that he had ordered planes flown by coup plotters to be shot down.
Turkey’s military chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, whose whereabouts have been unknown, has been rescued from an air base outside of Ankara and taken to a secure location, before resuming command of the operation against those in charge in the coup. According to CNN-Turk, Akar was taken hostage at military headquarters in Ankara.
Chaos had continued to erupt overnight and into the morning, with reports that a bomb had hit the Turkish parliament in the capital of Ankara, injuring people there. There were additional reports of explosions and gunfire in Istanbul’s main Taksim Square and Anadolu Agency reported that a military helicopter used by coup plotters had been shot down on the outskirts of Ankara.
The coup attempt began Friday evening when tanks rolled on the streets in Ankara and Istanbul, and the latter city’s airport was reportedly taken over by the military. “Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged,” said a military statement sent to journalists. “All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relationships with all countries will continue.”
Erdogan, speaking via a FaceTime conversation broadcast live on television, said he would join citizens in the street. His office said he is currently in a secure location, according to a statement from his office reported by the Associated Press.
“It is carried out without my knowledge and it is completely illegal,” Erdogan said. “I am inviting everyone to go outside and resist against this illegal structure.”
Earlier in the night Prime Minister Yildirim had said that a group within the military had attempted to take power. “Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” he said in comments broadcast by private television channel NTV, according to Reuters. “The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”
“This uprising is a terror action,” Yildirim later added on NTV, saying it was no different “than the terrorist attacks going on in [the] southeast of Turkey.”
“Every attack attempt will be answered both from the air and the land,” he later said on NTV.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry urged calm. Kerry said he had spoken to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and pledged “absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions.
Obama called on people in Turkey to “support the democratically-elected government… show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed.”
But there were reports of just that, with the state-run Anadolu agency reporting a bomb had hit a public relations building at the Turkish parliament, injuring some police officers. Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman said that there were no fatalities and that all legislators were safe.
There were also reports that 17 police officers had been killed in a military helicopter attack on a police special forces HQ just outside Ankara.
Inside Ankara, a loud explosion was reported where a heavy security presence had gathered. Security forces blocked two bridges over the Bosphorus strait that runs through Istanbul, and at least one major road in the city, according to Turkish television footage. On Istanbul’s Istiklal street, a major pedestrian thoroughfare, this reporter saw few people on what would have been a busy time on Friday night.
Turkey’s military has forced changes of government four times since 1960, and another military coup has long been considered a possibility under the current government led by Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003. But Erdogan’s government had taken steps that were believed to politically defang the military. In 2010, hundreds of current and former military officials were arrested after being accused of a plot to overthrow Erdogan.
Over the last year Erdogan’s government approved a crackdown on Kurdish militants in the southeast of the country, who had long fought for more autonomy from the central government. The breakdown in negotiations with Kurdish militants resulted in a series of deadly bombings throughout the country. Turkey has also been engaged in an increasingly bloody battle with ISIS, which repeatedly struck civilian targets in the country—most recently a suicide attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on June 28 that killed over 40 people. All flights from the airport have been blocked, and the military has reportedly taken it over.
Erdogan, who has been criticized for his increasingly authoritarian policies, had reportedly been on vacation in the seaside Turkish city of Bodrum. It is not clear what his whereabouts are, though Turkey’s state news agency reported that the military’s chief of staff had been taken captive. The military has long viewed itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular government.
It remains unclear how much of the military is participating in the coup attempt, according to Burak Kadercan, an expert on Turkish politics at the U.S. Naval War college in Rhode Island. “This is a mid-level coup attempt so far,” he says. “It’s not a top-down coup.”