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Erdogan: Will do everything for stability of Turkey

In an exclusive interview, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discusses the failed coup and the ongoing crackdown.

In a wide-ranging interview with Talk to Al JazeeraTurkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that Turkish democracy is not under threat, but said there could be more arrests in the wake of last week’s failed coup attempt.

“We will remain inside a democratic parliamentary system, we will never step back from it,” he told Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, speaking through a translator, from inside the presidential palace in Ankara.

“However, whatever is necessary for the nation’s peace and stability will be done,” he said.

Erdogan expressed doubts that the coup attempt was completely over, saying: “I don’t think we have come to the end of it yet.”

He later declared a three-month state of emergency in a televised address saying it “has the sole purpose of taking the necessary measures, in the face of the terrorist threat that our country is facing,” and vowed the “virus in the military will be cleansed”.   

In his interview with Al Jazeera, Erdogan described the attempted coup as “a crime against the Turkish state”, adding that the government was making sure “every step is taken within the law”.

READ MORE: Turkey attempted coup – thousands of police suspended

Following Friday night’s failed coup, the Turkish government’s purge of state institutions has already affected about 60,000 people including soldiers, judges, civil servants, police and teachers who have been detained, suspended or face investigation.

Rights organisations and Turkey’s allies have voiced concern that these measures go too far, while some claim that Erdogan is using the failed coup to legitimise a crackdown on opposition.

READ MORE: Turkey – United against a coup, divided on the future

Erdogan told Al Jazeera that Turkey’s government’s response of a high number of arrests was not different to the response of other countries facing security threats.

“For example, in the face of terrorist acts, France took numerous steps and certain stands,” he said.

“Did they not detain people en masse? Did they not arrest people in very high numbers? We cannot deny those situations.”

Erdogan maintained his claim that US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement were behind the coup attempt and said it would be a big mistake if the US decided not to extradite him. Gulen, who lives in exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, has denied any involvement.

The Turkish president, however, said he did not want to strain Turkey’s relations with the US as a result of the extradition request.  

“We need to be more sensitive,” he said. “Relations between our countries are based on interests, not feelings. We are strategic partners.”

The Turkish president said he believed foreign countries might have been involved in the failed coup attempt, though he declined to name any.

Erdogan also reiterated Turkey would consider reinstating the death penalty after the failed attempt to overthrow his government.

“I will approve capital punishment if it’s passed by parliament,” he said.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 under reforms aimed at obtaining European Union membership.

Reinstatement would create further issues between the EU and Ankara in the already stalled membership talks.

But Erdogan insisted that Turkey’s decision on capital punishment should not affect its relations with the EU.

“If the EU respects democracy it will accept people’s will,” he said. “The world is not simply the European Union. Do you have capital punishment in the US, Russia, China and in many other countries? Yes.”

WATCH MORE: Turkey: Witch-hunt or precautionary measures?

Highlighted excerpts from Erdogan’s interview:

On how he found out about the coup attempt: “It was my brother-in-law who gave me first the news. Initially my reaction was disbelief … I had a conversation with the head of the national intelligence agency, I was already with the minister of energy on site and we decided to take a number of steps. One of the first steps involved my family and me taking a helicopter from where we were to Dalaman, and from Dalaman to come to Istanbul by plane.” 

On arriving in Istanbul: “When we arrived in Istanbul, of course there were some difficult moments there as well … We had F-16 jets flying in low altitude, faster than the speed of sound; that was of course an effort to instill fear in the hearts of tens of thousands of people who were assembled there, and then we sat down with a number of colleagues in positions of authority and we planned the aftermath, what was going to follow.”

On telling people to take to the streets: “During that press briefing I advised people not to panic, nobody should panic, and I invited the people to take to the streets, to take to the square, that it would be the right thing to do, because within a democratic parliamentary system when you have a president of the republic elected to office with 52 percent of the vote and the government that received 50 percent of the vote, in this type of a country, this sort of a coup or an attempted coup, would be best answered by the presence of the people on the street answering to those who want to impose their will on their decisions.”

On potential foreign involvement in the failed coup: “There might be other countries involved as well; the Gulenist terror organisation also has another superior mind, if you will, and a time will come when those connections will be deciphered. We have to be patient … But I don’t think it will take long. The judiciary is acting and I think all of those connections will come to the light of day.” 

On critics accusing him of a media crackdown: “I have never been against media; there have been numerous insults and libels against me and my family and those outlets are still broadcasting. But in this incident even they said they were on the side of the president, because [a pro-coup] direction would doom them and be the end of them.”

On reinstating the death penalty: “If parliament makes that decision, then the duty of the authorities in power is to pave the way for this punishment to be reintroduced.  The people have voiced this demand. They took to the streets and kept saying ‘capital punishment, capital punishment, capital punishment’.”

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