A military fraction attempted to stage a coup d’etat in Turkey's capital of Ankara and business centre of Istanbul on the evening of July 15. Thousands of people poured onto the streets to protest the coup in answer to a call by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who fled to Germany as violence spread rapidly.
The streets of Turkey’s largest cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir quickly descended into chaos in the early hours of July 16, as Turks took to the streets to protest against a military coup d’etat and curfew. The official Anadolu news agency confirmed that the Turkish army chief of staff had been taken hostage by coup plotters and there are unconfirmed reports of other government officials being seized.
bne IntelliNews correspondents on the ground report jets flying over the capital Ankara and bombing unidentified targets.
However, the worst violence quickly spread to Istanbul. Around midnight reports appeared of shooting and explosions in Istanbul and the third largest city of Izmir as the chaos spread from Ankara. The military imposed a curfew, which was widely ignored as thousands took to the streets in support of Erdogan.
Three main flashpoints appeared in Istanbul - Ataturk airport, Taksim Square and the bridge crossing the Bosphorus – where there were some reports of clashes with the military and sporadic gunfire across the city.
Turkish CNNTurk reported the first casualty shortly after midnight as soldiers opened fire on pro-Erdogan protesters marching towards the Bosphorus bridges in Istanbul, where at least three people were injured.
Other dramatic footage showed tanks reportedly on their way to Erdogan’s presidential palace being harangued by crowds, some of whom were waving Turkish flags, while other protesters climbed on top of the tanks, shouting at the drivers.
Despite being banned, social media was aflame with photos and videos of crowds flocking to the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, which had been closed down late on July 15, and to the city’s central Taksim Square.
After being evacuated from his residence at the Dolmabahce Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan boarded a plane headed to Germany, according to US defence officials, reports US news network MSNBC.
Before leaving he addressed Turks via FaceTime, by calling into an official TV station, and was interviewed by the presenter holding her phone up to the camera. Erdogan called the people onto the street and asked them to protest against the coup d’etat.
The Turkish head of state enjoys the support of slightly over half of the population, and has been fighting to change the constitution to turn the country into a presidential republic in order to strengthen his grip on power. Thousands of people immediately flooded the streets, with those in Istanbul converging on Taksim Square, where they threw rocks at tanks and booed the military.
The irony of a leader who has been the most active in crushing social media being forced to rally his supporters via social media was not lost on observers.
The two main parliamentary opposition parties came out in support of the democratically elected government as the situation in Istanbul deteriorated rapidly around midnight.
Main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilictaroglu says he's with the democratically elected government against the coup. The hard right MHP also publicly condemned the coup.
Chaos but no panic
While the situation was chaotic in the small hours of the July 15, there was no panic nor a heavy military presence. By 1am bars and shops were closed, but bne IntelliNews correspondents in Istanbul report that locals have been rushing to the stores to buy food and supplies, before marital law was imposed.
Istanbul had not been unaffected after a fighter jet buzzed the city, flying very low.
There were also reports of tanks at Istanbul’s airport, which suffered from a terrorist attack on June 28 at the hand of Islamic radicals. By 10pm, all flights into and out of the airport had been cancelled, according to airport authorities, due to “heavy air traffic”, and the airport had been closed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to address the nation at 11pm, but was evacuated by guards before leaving the country for Germany, according to US state department officials, according to US media.
Newly appointed Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has been left behind in charge and quickly issued a statement claiming that there was unauthorized “action” by “parts of the army”, and went onto say that “it's not a real coup”. He added that several "key buildings" had been seized, and that "those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way", according to Anadolu press agency.
Turkey has a long history of military coups, having suffered from three in the past –in 1960, 1980 and 1997. The army sees itself as a guarantor of the state, founded by Kemal Ataturk, and his secular vision for the country, which Erdogan and the AKP have been undoing through religious and social conservatism.
The coup attempt could not come at a worse time for Turkey’s economy. Erdogan recently buried the hatchet in a diplomatic row with Russia and Israel. After the Turkish president apologised for downing a Russian bomber in November, Russia's Vladimir Putin agreed to lift a travel and holiday ban on Russians visiting Turkey this month. Russian tourism is worth at least $3bn a year to cash-strapped Ankara. The first Russian tourists were just about to leave for their favourite summer holiday destinations in Turkey, but are likely to cancel trips now.
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Shoppers in Istanbul panic buying supplies late on Friday night as news of the coup attempt spreads.