ANKARA: Elements of the Turkish military announced they had seized control of the country in a military coup on Saturday (Jul 16), sparking bloody clashes in Istanbul and Ankara.
An AFP photographer saw troops open fire on people gathered near one of the Bosphorus bridges in Istanbul and state-run news agency Anadolu reported that the parliament in Ankara has been bombed.
It was unclear who was in control of the strategic NATO country of 80 million people as tanks took to the streets and multiple explosions rang out in the country's two biggest cities.
But Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the situation in Turkey was "largely under control", in comments to NTV television.
Turkey's intelligence agency MIT was targeted by hijacked helicopters but the coup attempt was "foiled", its spokesman told the channel, adding that there were no casualties at MIT.
Around 30 Turkish soldiers who were part of a faction attempting to carry out the military coup surrendered their weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul's central Taksim square, a Reuters witness said.
A tank moves into position as Turkish people attempt to stop it. (Photo: AP)
If successful, the overthrow of President Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would amount to one of the biggest shifts in power in the Middle East in years.
"We will overcome this," Erdogan said, speaking by mobile phone to the Turkish sister station of CNN. "I certainly believe that coup plotters will not succeed. I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people."
Erdogan, speaking from Marmaris on the Turkish coast where he was on holiday, said he was still president and Turkey's commander in chief, promising that plotters would pay a "very heavy price".
Looking pale and drawn as he spoke from what a presidential source said was a secure location, he urged people to take to the streets to resist the coup.
He blamed the events on "the parallel state" and "Pennsylvania" - a reference to Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, his arch-enemy who he has always accused of seeking to overthrow him.
Erdogan later on Saturday emerged to crowds of supporters at Istanbul's main Ataturk airport, footage on broadcaster NTV showed.
Turkey's Fox TV meanwhile broadcast a recording of Erdogan speaking earlier in the night, saying an uprising had been attempted against the solidarity and unity of the country but that no power was above the national will.
Supporters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protest in front of soldiers in Istanbul's Taksim square on
Jul 16, 2016 (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)
Television images showed scores of people, some waving Turkish flags, gathered in major squares in main city Istanbul and capital Ankara to show support for the elected government. Gunfire broke out in both cities.
Warplanes and helicopters roared over Ankara and explosions could be heard there. Reuters reporters saw a helicopter open fire. State-run news agency Anadolu said military helicopters had fired on the headquarters of the intelligence agency.
There was global alarm at the rapidly developing situation, as a presidential source said an F-16 fighter jet had shot down a helicopter hijacked by coup plotters.
Airports were shut, access to Internet social media sites was cut off, and troops sealed off the two bridges over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, one of which was still lit up red, white and blue in solidarity with victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in France a day earlier.
Broadcaster NTV reported that two people were killed in clashes in the city earlier.
People carry a man shot during clashes with Turkish military at the entrance to the Bosphorus bridge. (Photo: AFP/Bulent Kilic)
Turkey's top general Hulusi Akar was taken hostage at the military headquarters in the capital Ankara after the attempt to bring down the government, Anadolu reported.
State broadcaster TRT said the military had declared martial law and a curfew, in a statement signed by a group calling itself the "Council for Peace in the Homeland".
"The power in the country has been seized in its entirety," said a military statement quoted by Turkish media.
It said the move had been made "in order to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms and let the supremacy law in the country prevail, to restore order which was disrupted."
"All our international agreements and commitments retain their validity. We hope our good relations will continue with all countries in the world."
The country would be run by a "peace council" that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.
It was not yet clear whether the attempted takeover had been backed with the widespread support of the military, or just a few rogue elements within it.
Turkey's once-powerful military has long considered itself the guardian of the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. It has staged three coups since 1960 and forced out an Islamic government in 1997.
Erdogan's critics have long accused him of undermining modern Turkey's secular roots - but the president was believed to have won control of the military after purging elements who opposed him.
Turkish security officers detain Turkish police officers (in black). (Photo: AFP/Bulent Kilic)
Yildirim denounced what he said was an "illegal attempt" by elements in the military, and said security forces have been called in to "do what is necessary".
"We are working on the possibility of an attempt. We will not allow this attempt," Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV.
"Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command. The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so."
"Those who are in this illegal act will pay the highest price," he added, saying it would not be correct to describe the move as a "coup".
Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge on Jul 15, 2016. (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)
NOT A TINPOT COUP
Turkey, a NATO member with the second biggest military in the Western alliance, is one of the most important allies of the United States in the fight against Islamic State.
It is a principal backer of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war, and host to 2 million Syrian refugees.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in Syria's capital Damascus as word got out that Erdogan had been toppled, and people took the streets to celebrate there and in the government-held section of the divided city of Aleppo.
Turkey has been at war with Kurdish separatists, and has suffered numerous bombing and shooting attacks this year, including an attack two weeks ago by extremists at Istanbul's main airport that killed more than 40 people.
A senior EU source monitoring the situation said: "It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a significant body of the military, not just a few colonels. They've got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station imminently. They control several strategic points in Istanbul.
"Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing. It's not just a few colonels," the source repeated.
One European diplomat was dining with the Turkish ambassador to a European capital when guests were interrupted by the pinging of urgent news on their mobile phones.
"This is clearly not some tinpot little coup. The Turkish ambassador was clearly shocked and is taking it very seriously," the diplomat told Reuters as the dinner party broke up. "However it looks in the morning, this will have massive implications for Turkey. This has not come out of nowhere."
Turkish military stand guard in the Taksim Square. (Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
'TURKS ARE ON FIRE'
There was chaos in Istanbul as angry crowds took to the streets to boo the passing tanks, while others celebrated. "We are angry at the military because they are killing us, they are killing civilians," one protester told AFP, asking not to be named.
But other Turks were welcoming news of the coup.
"Turks are on fire," Fethi Karabas, a 27-year-old tour guide in Taksim Square, told AFP. "We have hope now," he added. "Turkey has been in a very polarised state for almost 15 years now ... This is the manifestation of all that anger."
Rojhat Dogru, a Turkish Kurd on holiday in Istanbul, added: "I am very happy. Erdogan is a murderer but now he is dead."
But there was a flood of concerned reactions from around the globe, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini calling for "restraint and respect for democratic institutions".
US President Barack Obama has been briefed, while the Kremlin said it was "deeply concerned" by the developments.
"Everything must be done to protect human lives," said a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A Greek government source said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been "briefed by the head of secret services" about the developments.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for calm in Turkey as the world body sought to clarify the situation in the country, said a UN spokesman.