AP interview: Turkish opposition warns govt about witch hunt


ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s polarized factions should learn from their mistakes and overcome their antagonism, the main opposition leader said Tuesday, reflecting fragile efforts to reconcile in a shaken country where the opposition has for years accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of authoritarianism.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who has previously compared Erdogan to a dictator, said Turkey’s political parties could re-boot tense relationships following the trauma of the July 15 insurrection. However, he warned the government against a “witch hunt” in its crackdown on suspected associates of the coup plotters, echoing concerns that anyone critical of the president could be caught in the purges.

“We all need to engage in self-criticism,” said Kilicdaroglu, head of the opposition Republican People’s Party, which was close to secularist generals who used to control Turkey’s military. The party, which backs a Western-style liberal democracy, has lost by wide margins to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which took power more than a decade ago with the votes of a conservative Islamic base sidelined under past secular governments.

Erdogan, whose efforts to channel more executive power to the presidency have alarmed his opponents, thanked political foes who condemned the coup attempt. The spectacle of Erdogan shaking hands with Kilicdaroglu in a rare meeting Monday at the presidential palace startled commentators.

Still, there are deep divisions between followers of Erdogan, who advocates a pious Muslim lifestyle, and secular Turks who think the president wants to impose Islam on the country. Also, the leader of a Kurdish political party accused of links to Kurdish rebels in Turkey was not invited to the meeting with Erdogan, an indicator of tensions following the collapse of peace talks a year ago and a resumption of the long-running insurgency.

In the latest violence, rebels killed a soldier at a sentry post in southeast Turkey, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported Tuesday.

The Kurdish political group, the People’s Democratic Party, has alleged that the government is using the attempted coup as an opportunity to weaken all opposition groups under a three-month state of emergency that grants Erdogan the power to issue decrees without parliamentary approval.

“You don’t become a democrat automatically when you stand against the coup,” said Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party.

Turkish officials, who have vowed to respect democracy and the rule of law in their crackdown, said Tuesday that two Turkish generals serving in Afghanistan and a former Istanbul governor were detained in recent moves against suspected associates of the coup plot. Authorities also detained 44 people after a search at Istanbul’s naval academy, issued detention warrants for 29 lawyers in the central Turkish city of Konya and suspended at least 110 culture and tourism ministry employees, the Anadolu agency said.

Turkey has detained more than 13,000 people in the military, judiciary and other institutions in purges after the uprising by some military units on July 15 left about 290 people dead. Tens of thousands of others have been suspended from their jobs in sectors including education, health care, city government and even Turkish Airlines. The government blames the uprising on followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in the United States and runs a global network of schools and foundations.

Gulen has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the coup attempt.

In the AP interview at his party’s headquarters, Kilicdaroglu cautioned that authorities should act within the law and pursue only those linked to the coup plot.

“Those who are innocent should not be thrown into the fire with those who are guilty,” said Kilicdaroglu, the former head of Turkey’s social security service.

He said he supported Turkish appeals for the United States to extradite Gulen, though Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, criticized him for a speech at a rally Sunday in which he condemned the coup attempt but did not mention Gulen by name.

That rally, meant to be a show of Turkish political unity, drew tens of thousands of supporters of Kilicdaroglu’s party and some ruling party members. There were no party flags in sight; only red and white national flags were on display. Many pro-government media outlets, which often downplay or ignore opposition events, closely covered the demonstration.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, meanwhile, Gulen once again wrote he had nothing to do with the coup and urged the United States to reject Turkey’s extradition request. He said he had issued a denunciation of the coup attempt that was similar to statements issued by Turkey’s opposition parties, but “Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, immediately accused me of orchestrating the putsch.”

In other news, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Erdogan in St. Petersburg on Aug. 9 as the two nations try to resume warmer ties.

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Torchia reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros and Cinar Kiper in Istanbul contributed.

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