60 killed, hundreds arrested in Turkey after a failed coup

Early on Saturday, Reuters journalists saw around 30 pro-coup soldiers surrender their weapons.

People run away on the Bosphorus bridge during clashes in Istanbul on 16 July, 2016. At least 60 people have been killed and 336 detained in a night of violence across Turkey sparked when elements in the military staged an attempted coup, a senior Turkish official said. Picture: AFP.

ISTANBUL - A widespread coup attempt in Turkey has failed with that country's government saying it has firm control of the nation.

Reports say at least 60 people have been killed in the capital, Ankara. Soldiers took control of parts of the city as well as Istanbul last night, with the military saying it had taken power.

Early on Saturday, Reuters journalists saw around 30 pro-coup soldiers surrender their weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul's central Taksim square.

They were taken away in police vans as a fighter jet repeatedly screeched overhead at low altitude, causing a boom that shook surrounding buildings and shattered windows.

People are out and have been seen queued outside shops and ATMs getting as much provisions as they can, from fruits and breads.

There's heightened sense of panic around Ankara, with fighter jets hovering over the capital to monitor the situation.

With the Turkish military and security services apparently split as gunfire and explosions rocked both Istanbul and the capital Ankara on Friday night, the United States made clear it was siding with the government of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched by a faction in the armed forces, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and was shown on TV appearing among a crowd of supporters outside Ataturk Airport.

Relations between Erdogan's government and the US administration have been rocky, but he has broadly cooperated in the fight against Islamic State.

"The United States views with gravest concern events unfolding in Turkey," Secretary of State John Kerry said. He later stressed Washington's "absolute support" for the democratically elected government during a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Whatever the outcome, analysts said, the US ally now faces a period of political and economic instability. That could divert the Turkish military and security services from stemming a recent series of attacks blamed on Islamic State, fighting a Kurdish insurrection and shutting off the flow of foreign militants across its border to and from Syria.

Watch: AK Party supporters protest against Turkish soldiers in Istanbul

"From the US perspective, the worst case scenario might be an ineffective coup that pitches Turkey into a prolonged power struggle," said Blaize Misztal, the national security director at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

"Even a quickly executed coup which met little resistance would be destabilising, but a partial or unsuccessful coup would lead to much more instability ahead."

Turkey, the bridge between Europe and the Middle East, has Nato's second-largest army after that of the United States, and is the region's largest economy. Despite a history of military coups, the country of 75 million people is the region's oldest democracy, and has helped provide stability in southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

"This could be one of the most critical challenges of the Obama administration. A stable Turkey is crucial to American interests in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus," said Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institution and a former CIA analyst. "A democratic Turkey, even if flawed, is essential to any hopes of political reform in the Middle East."

Turkey is host to important US and Nato military facilities. They include Incirlik Air Base, from which US fighters and drones hit Islamic State in neighboring Syria, a CIA base from which the agency has been supporting moderate Syrian rebel forces, US listening posts and an early warning radar for Nato's European missile defense system.

Turkey was scheduled to attend a meeting near Washington next week of the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition, although it was unclear if the attempted coup would affect that.

US officials have criticised Erdogan's increasing authoritarianism, Turkey's support for Islamist opposition groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the slow pace in sealing its border with Syria to foreign fighters.

For his part, Erdogan has been angered by US support for Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State that he considers allies of the PKK, the rebel group fighting for greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurds.

"The key point is, the (Obama) administration would always support a democratically elected government in this situation," said Matthew Bryza, a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and a former senior White House adviser on Turkey.

US interests will suffer no matter the outcome of the coup attempt, said Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute.

If the coup fails, Erdogan's "hand will be strengthened and we'll see more of his autocratic agenda," Tol said. "And if it succeeds, this means . . . further instability for Turkey domestically."

Additional information by Reuters