Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas(reuters_tickers)
By Samia Nakhoul, Nick Tattersall and Orhan Coskun
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters on Thursday that there were significant failures in intelligence ahead of last Friday's attempted military coup and that the armed forces would quickly be restructured and have fresh blood.
In his first interview since declaring a state of emergency following the abortive coup, Erdogan said a new coup attempt was possible but would not be easy, saying "we are more vigilant".
"It is very clear that there were significant gaps and deficiencies in our intelligence, there is no point trying to hide it or deny it. I told it to the head of national intelligence," Erdogan told Reuters in his palace in Ankara, which was targeted during the coup attempt.
Erdogan accuses Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic U.S.-based cleric, of masterminding the plot, which crumbled early on Saturday. In the roundup, more than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or placed under investigation.
Erdogan said a meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS), the top body overseeing the armed forces, which had been due on Aug. 1, might be brought forward by a week to oversee the restructuring. The Council is chaired by the prime minister, and includes the defence minister and the chief of staff.
"They are all working together as to what might be done, and ... within a very short amount of time a new structure will be emerging. With this new structure, I believe the armed forces will get fresh blood," Erdogan said.
"After all that has come to pass, I think they must now have drawn very important lessons. This is an ongoing process, we will never stop, we will continue very actively, we have plans."
Erdogan, the most dominant figure on the Turkish stage since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic, and who has had a winning streak of more than 10 election victories, has been at war with his former ally for several years.
He looked calm and composed throughout the interview, but security was heightened inside and out his vast palace complex, with police special forces in the gardens and city dump trucks blocking access roads at impromptu checkpoints.
The lights at the palace, which usually illuminate the night sky, have been dimmed in recent days.
Erdogan said there was no obstacle to extending the state of emergency beyond the initial three months if necessary. It would allow his government to take swift measures against supporters of the coup and will permit the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary.
"This state of emergency is not a curfew. People will still be on the street minding their own business and getting on with daily life," he said.
"INHUMAN AND IMMORAL"
Erdogan said the Gulen movement would be treated as "another separatist terrorist organisation", drawing a parallel to the state's fight against Kurdish militants over the past three decades.
"We will continue the fight ... wherever they might be. These people have infiltrated the state organisation in this country and they rebelled against the state," he said, calling the actions of Friday night "inhuman" and "immoral".
He compared the Gulen movement to a malignant cancer in the body that could spread and return if not eliminated.
"We will do everything necessary to have the highest rate of success … Whatever the law allows or admits," he said, adding that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had at one stage helped the Gulen movement but had been betrayed.
"We never considered even the possibility that they might be involved in this kind of a treason ... We supported them to the fullest as citizens of our country," he said.
"They are traitors ... They have always been two-faced, if you want, and now we see their real face very clearly."
He said the death toll had risen to 246 people excluding the coup plotters and that 2,185 people were wounded. Soldiers used fighters jets, military helicopters and tanks to strike institutions including parliament, the intelligence agency and Erdogan's palace in Friday's violence in Istanbul and Ankara.
The authorities have said they will seek the extradition of Gulen, who has denounced the coup attempt and denied any involvement, suggesting it may have been staged by Erdogan as an excuse to crack down on the religious movement.
The putsch and the purge that has followed have rattled the country of 80 million, a NATO member bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran, and a Western ally in the fight against Islamic State.
The Turkish president said a cut in Turkey's foreign currency credit rating by Standard & Poor's had been a political decision and showed the rating agency had "sided with the coup, not with democracy".
He added that if fellow rating agency Moody's followed suit, it would not be an objective decision. He said there was no liquidity problem in Turkey's strong financial sector.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Nick Tattersall, Orhan Coskun, Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Nick Tattersall)