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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Turkey sacks 18,500 a day before Erdogan is sworn in

Dismissals ordered by decree under state of emergency due to end this month

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends opening session of Turkey's new parliament on July 7, 2018. Presidency Press Service via AP
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends opening session of Turkey's new parliament on July 7, 2018. Presidency Press Service via AP

Turkey on Sunday sacked more than 18,500 state employees, including police officers, soldiers and academics, before the expected end of a two-year state of emergency this month.

The Official Gazette said 18,632 people had been dismissed, including 8,998 police officers, over suspected links to terrorist organisations that "act against national security", in what could be the last of the purges under emergency rule.

Turkey declared a state of emergency after the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has extended it seven times since then, with the latest period due to end on July 19.

Government officials have indicated that the emergency could be declared over as early as Monday.

Critics say Mr Erdogan is using the extra powers permitted under emergency rule to target opponents, while human rights defenders have said the purges are arbitrary.

But the government says they are necessary to remove a number of terrorist threats inside state institutions.

Mr Erdogan will be sworn in on Monday under a new executive presidency after his outright victory in the June 24 elections. There will be a lavish ceremony and a new cabinet will be announced.

The current parliamentary system will end under constitutional changes approved in a referendum last year.

During the election campaign, pushed by his opponents' promises including his main opposition rival Muharrem Ince, Mr Erdogan vowed to lift the state of emergency if he was re-elected.

"The new government will be announced on Monday, the cabinet will start to work and the state of emergency will be completed," outgoing Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said last week, although he reiterated that the latest extension was due to end in the middle of this month.

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The majority of those sacked under the emergency are accused of links to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Muslim preacher the government claims was behind the attempted coup.

The government refers to his movement as the "Fethullah Terrorist Organisation" but Mr Gulen strongly denies any link to the failed coup and has repeatedly insisted his movement is peaceful.

Over 110,000 public sector employees have been removed from their jobs under emergency decrees since July 2016, while tens of thousands more have been suspended in a clampdown criticised by Ankara's western allies.

In the new decree, 3,077 army soldiers were also dismissed, as well as 1,949 air force personnel and 1,126 from the naval forces.

Another 1,052 civil servants from the justice ministry and related institutions have also been dismissed, as well as 649 from the gendarmerie and 192 from the coastguard.

Authorities also sacked 199 academics, according to the new decree, while 148 state employees from the military and ministries were reinstated.

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This year, the government said more than 77,000 people had been arrested over alleged links to Mr Gulen.

The detentions show no sign of slowing after hundreds of people, including soldiers, were taken into custody last week over alleged Gulen links.

Thousands have also been dismissed, suspended or arrested over suspected ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.

Sunday's decree shut down 12 associations, many of them in the education sector, across the country as well as three newspapers and a television channel.

One of the newspapers closed was the Kurdish-language daily Welat based in the south-eastern province of Diyarbakir as well as the pro-Kurdish Ozgurlukcu Demokrasi whose Istanbul offices were raided by police in March.