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32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe

32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe 32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe

Turkey said Wednesday that courts have placed 32,000 suspects under arrest on charges of links to a group run by the US-based preacher blamed for the July coup bid, as the country braces for the most extensive trials in its history, AFP reports.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told NTV television that 70,000 people had been investigated after the attempted putsch on July 15 and of them 32,000 remanded in custody. 

"This process is continuing," he said. The numbers of those arrested marks an increase of more than 10,000 from those previously given by the government.

Bozdag said that there could be new arrests, while some of those currently arrested could still be freed under judicial control or freed entirely.

Some two-and-a-half months after the coup attempt aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led to a crackdown unprecedented in Turkey's modern history, there is still no indication as to when trials might start.

The trials of tens of thousands of people will be the biggest legal process in Turkey's history and are set to put the system under unprecedented pressure.

- Cramped jails -

Turkey has already granted some 38,000 convicts early release in an apparent bid to create more space in cramped jails for the coup suspects.

"It is not entirely clear how the trials will be carried out," Bozdag acknowledged.

He said trials would take place in cities across the country and not in one single venue. 

Bozdag said there was no need to create a special trial venue in Istanbul as capacity was sufficient. But he said one was needed in Ankara and work is taking place for a trial venue at Sincan outside the capital.

"People are not going to be put on trial in just one place but trials will take place in all of Turkey," he said.

The purge after the coup has touched every sector in Turkey with those arrested ranging from top former generals to journalists to sweet pastry magnates.

Youth and Sports Ministry Akif Cagatay Kilic told the Anadolu news agency Wednesday that 322 people had been suspended from his ministry on suspicion of being affiliated to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating the attempted overthrow.

On Tuesday, 87 staff were dismissed from the powerful National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), in the first purge so far from the powerful spy agency.

Turkey's Western allies have expressed concern over the magnitude of the crackdown which is being imposed within a three-month state of emergency announced after the coup.

Ankara has insisted that the rule of law is being observed and has said there will be right of appeal for anyone unfairly caught in the sweep.

- 'Resist persecution' -

The coup prompted an unprecedented wave of solidarity in Turkey, which had seen governments directly ousted on three occasions by the military since 1960.

But amid signs that the solidarity is beginning to crumble, the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on Wednesday made his most severe criticism yet of the crackdown.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the CHP was against the state of emergency which he said had affected one million "victims" across the country.

He claimed teachers had lost their jobs simply for being union members, soldiers jailed as they followed orders on the night of the coup and cited the case of a police officer detained for sending money through a Gulen-linked bank.

"We must defend justice... I will resist this persecution. I will be on the side of the oppressed," Kilicdaroglu said in a televised speech from the city of Tokat. 

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has denied that he was linked to the coup in any way. 

Bozdag said Turkey has asked Washington to place Gulen under arrest as the US authorities consider Ankara's extradition request and an answer was expected in the next one or two days. 

By Stuart WILLIAMS

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