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Turkish troops hunt remaining coup plotters as crackdown widens

Turkish soldiers search for missing military personnel suspected of being involved in the coup attempt in Marmaris, Turkey, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Kenan Gurbuz

Reuters/Baz Ratner

ISTANBUL/ANKARA Turkish special forces backed by helicopters, drones and the navy hunted a remaining group of commandos thought to have tried to capture or kill President Tayyip Erdogan during a failed coup, as a crackdown on suspected plotters widened on Tuesday.

More than 1,000 members of the security forces were involved in the manhunt for the 11 rogue soldiers in the hills around the Mediterranean coastal resort of Marmaris, where Erdogan was holidaying on the night of the coup attempt, officials said.

Erdogan and the government accuse U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the attempted power grab and have launched a crackdown on his suspected followers. More than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges and civil servants have been arrested, suspended or put under investigation.

The religious affairs directorate removed another 620 staff including preachers and instructors in the Koran on Tuesday, bringing to more than 1,100 the number of people it has purged since the July 15 coup attempt.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said two Turkish ambassadors, currently in Ankara, had also been removed. Former Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu was detained and his house searched.

“There is no institution which this structure has not infiltrated,” Erdogan’s son-in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, said in a televised interview, referring to Gulen’s network of followers.

“Every institution is being assessed and will be assessed,” he said. The response from the Turkish authorities would, he said, be just and not amount to a witch-hunt.

The coup attempt raised particular questions about the air force, some of whose senior members were deeply involved, and could lead to the re-investigation of past incidents including the downing by the Turkish military of a Russian warplane near the Syrian border last year, Albayrak said.

The incident provoked Russian trade sanctions but there are signs of rapprochement, with Turkey thanking Moscow for its solid support during the abortive putsch. By contrast it has frosty ties with Europe, which has criticized the post-coup crackdown, and with the United States, which it has urged to extradite Gulen.

Albayrak made the comments as the highest-level Turkish delegation since the downing of the jet visited Moscow and officials announced a planned meeting between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin next month.

“Erdogan will be eager to send a message to Washington and EU capitals that Turkey has other options,” said Tim Ash, a strategist at Nomura and a veteran Turkey watcher.

The Turkish parliament set up on Tuesday a commission to investigate the coup attempt, with the backing of all political parties. It will also examine the allegations that the Gulen movement infiltrated the government and instigated the coup attempt.

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