Some fear the worst after Turkey announces state of emergency

It's half past two on Thursday morning. Turkey's state of emergency just came into force and on Istanbul's central Taksim Square there is a sea of Turkish flags. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's supporters are celebrating as if the national football team had won a soccer game.

Young men stretch four straight fingers into the air - the sign of Egyptian Islamists, which Erdogan adopted. Some jump up and down to the beat of Erdogan's election campaign song that again became a hit since the failed coup.

"We are the children of a great nation," shouts a speaker from a stage. "We are the grandchildren of Sultan Fatih," who conquered Constantinople, today's Istanbul, in 1453.

Whenever the speaker, whose voice has grown hoarse, shouts the president's name, waves of applause and cheers surge. Vendors sell red scarves with Erdogan's image.

A father lifts his son on his shoulders; the boy is wearing a headband saying "Martyrs are immortal."

Others wave flags with the Islamic creed or the flag of the Syrian rebels. Erdogan has gained the loyalty of many Syrian refugees, whom he recently promised to grant Turkish citizenship.

A man carries a poster bearing the portrait of preacher Fethullah Gulen who now lives in the United States. It reads "FETO, Enemy of the People."

Following the coup attempt, everyone recognizes the acronym FETO, which stands for "Fethullahci Teror Orgutu," which translates as "Terrorist group of Fethullah supporters."

Erdogan holds Gulen responsible for the military's attempted coup, which used unrestrained violence also against civilians. Gulen - once Erdogan's confidant - denies being the mastermind, but his followers do operate far-reaching networks across Turkey and inside the state.

Erdogan justified the imposition of a 90-day state of emergency with the need to effectively "cleanse" government agencies from Gulen supporters. "No matter where they flee, we are hot on their heels," the president warned.

The state of emergency strengthens Erdogan's power. He can now rule by decree and restrict or deny fundamental rights. At the same time, the president is trying to dispel concerns that he will do so.

"Don't worry," he promised in a speech on Thursday. "There definitely won't be restrictions. ... We won't move a single step away from democracy."

On day one of the state of emergency, life continued as usual - at least for those who are not suspected of being Gulen supporters.

In Istanbul, ferries brought tired commuters across the Bosporus strait from Asia to Europe and vice versa. Buses on Taksim Square were filled with people rushing to work. Stores on the popular Istiklal Caddesi shopping mile opened their shutters. There were no checkpoints or additional security forces patrolling the streets.

It is likely that Erdogan will use the state of emergency mainly to signal his strength after the coup attempt, which temporarily made him appear vulnerable.

Already in the period before the state of emergency, he repeatedly resorted to measures that the decree now formalizes. In the days immediately after the coup attempt he had thousands of people arrested and suspended tens of thousands of government employees suspected of supporting Gulen.

Anti-government protests were not forbidden before the state of emergency, but the police ended such demonstrations with water cannons and tear gas. This included harmless events, like the recent Gay Pride parade in Istanbul.

For weeks Ankara imposed curfews on Kurdish towns in the country's southeast and media close to Gulen were forced to align themselves with the government or were shut down.

One journalist, who worked for one of these media outlets, spoke to dpa by telephone from an airport on his way to Europe.

He had to leave his family behind because his children do not have passports, he explained. "If they apply, I am not sure they will get passports," the journalist said.

"From the first hours, I condemned the coup attempt," the journalist said. "If it had been successful, I would have gone to jail. After the coup failed, we are again the target. It's an odd situation."

Before his flight, he would have liked to attend the nightly "democracy vigils" against a possible future coup. "But that would have been difficult. I would have been lynched if someone had recognised me," he explained.

The journalist believes that Erdogan used the coup attempt as an excuse to remove all of his opponents from state institutions.

"What connection should there be between coup plotters, a teacher in Erzurum, a prosecutor in Antalya and an official in the Ministry of Health?" he asked.

Erdogan has been lobbying against Gulen for the past three years, after falling out with the preacher. "Hatred against the movement has been looming for a long time," the journalist said. "Now we have entered a new stage: A stage of pogrom."

Last update: Fri, 22/07/2016 - 02:26

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