Turkey Arrests More Than 1,000 Suspected Followers Of U.S.-Based Cleric

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Turkish authorities on Wednesday detained more than 1,000 people suspected of backing a Turkish cleric blamed by the government for a failed military coup last summer.

The mass arrests were among the largest in months in Turkey and part of a rolling government purge of the state’s institutions after the failed coup that has led the detention or arrests of more than 100,000 people.

The government of President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, of orchestrating the coup while demanding his extradition by the United States. Gulen denies any role in the coup attempt in July.

The latest sweeps targeted so-called “secret imams” suspected of being part of a Gulen network that “infiltrated” police forces, said Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu. Turkish media reported that more than 3,000 detention warrants had been issued in the latest operation.

The arrests, announced by Turkey’s interior ministry, come as Turkey is facing intense international scrutiny for its policies after the public narrowly approved sweeping new powers for Erdogan in a referendum held April 16.

Turkish opposition groups and European observers have complained that irregularities compromised the poll, which was approved by 51 percent of voters. The government has dismissed the widespread reports of fraud and the country’s election board rejected a request by opposition parties to nullify the vote.

The changes, which transform Turkey’s government from a parliamentary to a presidential system, have been harshly criticized by Erdogan’s opponents who say it cements Erdogan’s increasingly tight-fisted hold on power. They have pointed to the state’s eight-month purge, saying it has gone far beyond the so-called Gulenists and other enemies and led to the arrests or dismissals of dissenting journalists, academics and political opponents.

Erdogan and his allies have framed the referendum as a path to more stable governments and said it would help their struggle against the state’s adversaries, including Kurdish militants and the Islamic State extremist group.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Kareem Fahim

{Matzav}

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