ANKARA — Turkey marked the fifth anniversary of a failed military coup with a series of events Thursday commemorating the people who died trying to quash the uprising against the government.
The observances kicked off with visits to grave sites and memorials honoring the dead, where prayers were held. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led a ceremony in parliament before heading from Ankara to Istanbul to attend more events marking the crushing of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
On that night, factions within the military used tanks, warplanes and helicopters to try to overthrow Erdogan's government. Heeding a call from the president, thousands took to the streets to oppose the takeover attempt.
A total of 251 people were killed and around 2,200 others were wounded as the coup-plotters fired crowds and bombed parliament and other government buildings. Around 35 people who allegedly participated in the plot also were killed.
"We will never be a be able to repay the brave men who, through their sacrifices that dark night, brought a (bright) morning for our nation and democracy," Erdogan said Thursday. "Through its resistance on July 15, our people not only averted a coup attempt but also prevented an attempted occupation (of) our country."
Turkey has blamed U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, for the attempted coup. Gulen rejects the accusation. The Turkish government designated his network a terrorist group.
The government declared a state of emergency after the failed coup and launched a massive crackdown on Gulen's network. Tens of thousands of people were arrested for alleged links to the coup and to Gulen. Some 4,900 people were sentenced to prison, including around 3,000 who were given life sentences, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
More than 130,000 people were fired from public service jobs through emergency decrees, among them teachers and police officers. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said this week that more than 23,364 military personnel were fired from the armed forces for their alleged ties to the network.
Critics say the arrests and dismissals went too far and used Turkey's broad terror laws to target all government opposition.
More than 100 people with purported links to Gulen were detained abroad or extradited to Turkey to stand trial, including a nephew of the cleric who was reportedly captured by Turkish security in Kenya.
Schools, cultural centers and associations set up across the world by Gulen's transnational network were shuttered or transformed to institutions tied to the Turkish government.
Turkey has repeatedly requested the cleric's extradition from the U.S.