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Erdoğan backs death penalty on Turkey coup attempt anniversary

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reiterated his support for reinstating the death penalty in an emotive and combative speech to tens of thousands of people gathered in Istanbul to mark the anniversary of last year’s attempted coup.

On Saturday a sea of marchers flocked to the Bosphorus Bridge where 36 people were killed by coup soldiers exactly a year ago.

In a speech packed with religious references, Erdoğan said defendants in coup-related trials should wear a standard uniform “like in Guantanamo”, warned that Turkey would “cut the heads off” traitors bent on destabilising the country, and brandished the coup plotters as “unbelievers”.

“The most powerful weapons were mercilessly used by the enemies of our nation,” he said. “Our people only had the flag and faith.”

During the attempted coup, tanks and fighter jets were deployed in the streets and skies of Ankara and Istanbul, when a faction within the military attempted to overthrow the elected government.

The coup was defeated after citizens of all political stripes took to the streets to challenge the soldiers. The government blames Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher based in the US with a large grassroots following, and his movement for orchestrating the coup attempt.

But Turkey is in the shadow of a crackdown that has gone beyond the coup plotters to encompass dissidents and even opposition politicians. Tens of thousands of people have been dismissed or detained from the civil service, police, military, judiciary, media and academia, and rights activists have been repeatedly detained. On Friday the government sacked an additional 7,000 people, and more than 150 journalists are in prison.

In his speech after unveiling a monument to the victims at the Bosphorus Bridge, which has been renamed the 15 July Martyrs Bridge, the president harshly criticised opposition parties, indicating that there would be no attempt at a post-coup consensus.

Erdoğan was scheduled to deliver a speech in the early hours of Sunday at the Grand National Assembly to mark the moment during the coup when parliament was bombed by the plotters.

Marches and commemorative events were planned around Istanbul, Ankara and other big cities to mark the anniversary of the coup, including “democracy watches”, in which citizens occupy the cities’ main squares.