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"Daily life is running quite normal": Turkey's ambassador to Ireland launches charm offensive

Ambassador Necip Egüz defended his country’s post-coup crackdown, and insisted there was no threat to tourist areas.

TURKEY’S AMBASSADOR TO Ireland insisted everyday life in the country was back to normal today, as he briefed reporters at his embassy in south Dublin.

While Turkey was going through an “extraordinary period” and a state of emergency had been declared, he said that people were getting on with their lives in the wake of a bloody coup attempt earlier this month.

“Daily life is running quite normal,” Ambassador Necip Egüz said in a meeting room at the embassy in Ballsbridge, where he sought to reassure Irish readers and viewers that his country was safe to visit.

When you go to the south everybody is vacationing.

The ambassador’s comments come as his government continues a wide-ranging purge of the army and civilian state institutions, and launches a crackdown on dozens of media outlets.

Critics, led by the EU, have raised alarm over the magnitude of the crackdown – saying the coup attempt cannot be used as an excuse to go against those who criticise the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The latest travel advisory from the Department of Foreign Affairs urges Irish citizens in Turkey to “exercise a high degree of caution” and says the threat from terrorism remains high.

Media crackdown 

Authorities have ordered the closure of three news agencies, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers under the state of emergency, according to the country’s official gazette. Authorities also issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists earlier this week.

Many of the media outlets are linked with the US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, who the government accuses of being behind the 15 July rebellion, and running a “terror organisation”.

“Fethullah Gulen’s terrorist organisation owned TV channels, radio channels, publishing houses, papers – so it’s within this context that these channels and papers were closed,” Ambassador Egüz, who has held his post in Dublin since 2013, said today.

“There are instructions of the prosecutors to interrogate – to detain and interrogate – I think around 40 newspaper men and women. They are not asked for their professional activities, but they are asked to report because of their alleged links to this organisation.

“We will be very sensitive that the state of emergency does not affect the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens,” Egüz insisted.

On the contrary, I have to repeat that, this measure is taken for the efficient protection of the constitutional order fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens and to keep democracy in the country functioning.

Turkey Military Coup A newspaper kiosk in Istanbul today. Source: Associated Press

Asked to explain the crackdown, and for any assurances he could give that the actions against the media were taken democratically, he responded:

“Well I think you have seen what happened on the 15th of July.

“Almost 250 lives, innocent lives, were lost – more than 2,000 people were wounded in the country.

“The parliament was bombed. The premises of the presidential complex were bombed. Many government institutions were bombed.

Bullets were sprayed against the innocent masses in the country. That’s why now we have declared a state of emergency for three months – and the country is trying to go back to normal life, which it has at the moment.

He insisted the State was not clamping down on freedom of expression. ”Not at all. Not at all.”

Thousands detained 

The crackdown on the media follows wider measures taken against members of the security forces, judges, teachers and others in the wake of the coup.

According to Interior Minister Efkan Ala, a total of 15,846 people have been detained - including 10,012 soldiers, 2,901 police and 2,167 judges and prosecutors. Around 8,000 of those detained have been placed under arrest, and around 3,000 released.

Over 50,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs in state institutions – mostly in the education sector.

Turkey Bosporus Bridge Pro-government supporters protest against the attempted coup on the road leading to Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge (photo taken 21 July). Source: Emrah Gurel

Asked whether the State would be able to continue to function properly in the wake of such sweeping actions, the ambassador insisted the system “will recuperate”.

Swift action had already been taken to replace around 150 generals taken into custody, he said – noting that the country had a “huge State apparatus” and that measures were being taken to fill the roles of those dismissed.

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Tourist areas

While extra airport security measures had already been brought in, in advance of the coup, in the wake of a gun and bomb attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport in June – the ambassador said there was no current threat to the safety of tourists in resort towns along the country’s southern coast.

Repeating his assertion that life was now back to normal, he also noted that security forces remained on high alert in various locations, away from resort areas.

But the touristic destinations like Alanya, Antalya, Bodrum, Marmaris and those places – the life is normal and there is no security threat at all at the moment.

The Department of Foreign Affairs advice notes that there has been serious disruption to public transport, including international and domestic air travel, in the wake of the attempted coup.

The situation in Ankara and Istanbul in particular remains tense, the Department says, and there is “a heightened security presence on the streets in both cities”.

There have been incidents of violence, and Irish citizens should be extremely vigilant and stay informed of local developments and security advice.

Turkey Military Coup People wave Turkish flags as they gather in Taksim Square in Istanbul to protest against the attempted coup (19 July). Source: Emrah Gurel

The state of emergency, “suspends many provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights” according to the Department, and “intending travellers should follow any instructions given by police or security personnel”.

Beatings and torture 

In a statement earlier this week, Amnesty International said it had gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centres in the country.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, described the reports of abuse as “extremely alarming”.

“It is absolutely imperative that the Turkish authorities halt these abhorrent practices and allow international monitors to visit all these detainees in the places they are being held,” O’Gorman added.

In his rebuttal to the allegations, the ambassador said, “The law of the land is in force, and these allegations do not reflect the truth.”

He added: “In accordance with the relevant provisions of Turkish legislation, detainees are examined by doctors upon their capture. There is no exception during the interrogation of the culprits of this coup.

Detention centres in Turkey are also inspected by the prosecutors as well as other national and international institutions, such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

“According to the provisions of the Turkish penal code, prosecutors launch investigations upon findings of torture in Turkey. Therefore, allegations of torture against detainees are baseless and do not reflect the truth.”

- with reporting from AFP

Read: Turkey shuts down dozens of media organisations >

Read: Turkey shuts over 1,000 schools and extends police powers after failed coup >

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Daragh Brophy

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