Turkey orders 166 police detained in coup-related crackdown: media

October 7, 2016 2:08 AM EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish authorities detained 120 police officers on Friday and issued warrants for 46 others, media reported, extending a nationwide clampdown launched following a failed coup in July.

The operation was focused on Istanbul police headquarters but simultaneous raids were carried out in 35 provinces, targeting people who used a little-known smartphone messaging app called ByLock, state-run Anadolu Agency said.

President Tayyip Erdogan blames the coup on followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally turned enemy, who has denied any involvement.

Privately owned Dogan news agency said all those detained or sought were police employees, including 13 police chiefs, 114 ranking officers and 39 regular officers.

Around 32,000 people have been jailed pending trial during the post-coup crackdown, while around 100,000 members of the security and civil services, university professors and others have been fired or suspended from work.

Turkey's Western allies in the European Union and NATO have voiced concerns that innocent people may be swept up in the investigations, which critics have described as a purge.

The Council of Europe, a law and human rights organization based in Strasbourg, called on Turkey to lift its state of emergency, imposed days after the coup and extended this week for a further 90 days.

"It is inconceivable that the obvious threats on Turkish democracy at the time of the coup attempt have not dropped drastically," Nils Muizniecks, the council's human rights commissioner, said in a statement.

The emergency measures have effectively granted Erdogan the ability to rule by decree, with his decisions not subject to oversight by the Constitutional Court, Turkey's highest legal authority.

Ankara says followers of Gulen staged the coup to overthrow the president and seize control of the country.

The coup involved rogue troops who commandeered warplanes to bomb parliament and used tanks to kill 240 people, many of whom were civilians.

A senior Turkish official said in August the country's intelligence agency had identified at least 56,000 operatives of Gulen's network after it cracked the ByLock app, which the group began using in 2014.

(Additional reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg; Writing by Daren Butler, editing by Luke Baker and John Stonestreet)

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