Turkey detains dozens of air force pilots in coup probe: Anadolu

October 27, 2016 3:03 AM EDT

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By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police detained 45 air force pilots and were to take in dozens more on Thursday in the latest in a stream of police operations relating to investigations into a failed coup by rogue military in July, the state-run news agency Anadolu said.

The operation targeting suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the putsch, focused on an air base in the central province of Konya and spread across 17 provinces, the agency said.

Prosecutors issued detention warrants for a total of 71 lieutenants and two colonels, it said. Other media reports said more than 200 soldiers and civilians had been detained in coup-related operations on Thursday.

Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

The failed coup, in which rogue soldiers commandeered fighters jets and tanks in a bid to seize power, and the subsequent purges have shaken the Turkish armed forces, the second largest in NATO, as they fight Islamic State and Kurdish militants in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Turkey has arrested 35,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 others in the military, police, judiciary, civil service and elsewhere since the coup attempt. Gulen denies involvement in the plot.

Those detained on Thursday were accused of "armed rebellion against the Turkish Republic" and membership of what Ankara calls the Gulenist Terror Organisation, the privately-owned Dogan news agency said. They bring to more than 300 the number of pilots dismissed or arrested in the coup investigation.

The government is working on projects to cover the sudden shortage in air force pilot numbers and will seek to draw back pilots from civil aviation, the Haberturk newspaper said on Thursday.

Police last week detained 47 soldiers in a similar operation focused on the Konya base, of which 29 were subsequently remanded in custody, Dogan said. On Wednesday, Ankara said it had replaced three quarters of provincial police heads as part of the crackdown.

Turkish officials have said the interior ministry has ramped up efforts to purge the police and state institutions after the appointment at the end of August of a new minister, Suleyman Soylu, seen as close to President Tayyip Erdogan.

The extent of the crackdown has worried rights groups and some Western allies, who fear Erdogan is using it to curtail dissent. The government says the actions are justified by the threat to the state on July 15, when more than 240 people died.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Richard Balmforth)



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