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Apparent Military Coup In Turkey Could Have Global Consequences


A dramatic situation is unfolding tonight in Turkey that could have global consequences. At this moment, there are competing claims for who is in control of the country after an attempted coup by elements of the military. People are out in the streets in massive crowds, in some cases confronting soldiers. There have been reports of gunfire in several cities and also reports of explosions, including at the parliament building. It is now 3:00 a.m. in Istanbul and Ankara.

Earlier in the evening, the military took control of a state television station. An announcer read a statement saying the armed forces were running the country. Now the Turkish state news agency reports that police have taken back the broadcaster and arrested five quote, "coup attempting soldiers." This evening, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to network television in the country on an iPhone via FaceTime. He vowed to retaliate against the rebellious factions of the military.

NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following the U.S. response to all of this. Hi there again, Michele.


SHAPIRO: Turkey is such an important NATO ally for the U.S. Explain why this is a crucial country as far as America is concerned.

KELEMEN: Well, as you said, it is a key ally. I mean, the U.S. military works very closely with Turkey, and that's particularly important now in this fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, which is right in that neighborhood. The U.S. uses the Incirlik airbase, and we're told some of those flights are on hold for now as everyone tries to figure out what's happening. So there is a lot at stake here.

SHAPIRO: And at the same time, President Obama has had tense relationships for a couple of years with President Erdogan and his team in Turkey. What is at the center of that tension?

KELEMEN: Well, he has - and it's partly Syria policy. Erdogan does not like the idea that the U.S. is supporting Kurdish fighters in Syria. And on the other hand, the Obama administration has been very nervous about how Erdogan has been consolidating power, about human rights abuses in the country and a crackdown on the media.

SHAPIRO: Some of those issues which may have led to the attempted coup tonight.

KELEMEN: That's right. I mean, there was a lot of buildup to this. The consolidation of power - there was a recent ISIS bombing at the airport in Istanbul, and Erdogan has faced a lot of criticism for failing to protect people. His government which used to talk about no problem with its neighbors actually has problems with just about everybody.

SHAPIRO: What has the reaction been so far from American officials? Have they chosen sides in this?

KELEMEN: Well, President Obama we're told is being updated constantly. He spoke by phone with Secretary Kerry, who is on the road right now traveling. And Kerry did manage to get his Turkish counterpart, the foreign minister, on the phone. And the message is basically calling on all sides to show restraint, to respect the democratically elected government, to avoid bloodshed. You know, we're hearing those kinds of words as well from the U.N. secretary general as well as the NATO secretary general tonight.

SHAPIRO: And what is the State Department's guidance for Americans who are in Turkey right now?

KELEMEN: Shelter in place. Update their friends as possible to let them know they're safe. The embassy is warning Americans that, you know, the bridges in Istanbul have been closed. A lot of buildings are under blockade. So while the U.S. wants people to stay inside, Erdogan is calling on people to go out to the street, so it's really to be careful.

SHAPIRO: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen - and we will continue updating the story throughout the night. Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.