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Turkey arrests 729 over ties to US-based cleric Gulen

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Undated photo of Turkish police patrolling in front of the courthouse in Ankara. (Photo by AFP)

Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday ordered the arrest of 1,112 people, and arrested over 700 of them, over their suspected links to the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016.

Ankara's public prosecutor said officials had sent, to authorities in 75 provinces, the names of 1,112 people under investigation over suspected ties to Gulen and his movement.

During the nationwide raids, at least 729 people were arrested, state news agency Anadolu reported.

The operation was among the biggest that have been launched against alleged supporters of Gulen since the failed putsch.

Tuesday's operation was related to a police force examination in 2010 for those seeking to become deputy inspectors, and allegations that some of those taking part had received the questions in advance.

The Ankara public prosecutor's office, which leads the coup investigation, said 130 people on the list of suspects were deputy police chiefs still on active duty.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Sunday a "big operation" was looming against Gulen supporters. "Devils would not perpetrate deceptions like they have," he said. "We will finish them off."

The government says his network over decades infiltrated state institutions including the security forces, judiciary and ministries, often helped by cheating in exams, to create a "parallel state".

There have been regular raids across Turkey in recent weeks against alleged members of the movement, despite criticism from human rights defenders and Ankara's Western allies over the scale of the crackdown.

The operations show authorities are not letting up on their crackdown two-and-a-half years after rogue soldiers used warplanes, helicopters and tanks in a bid to seize power.

More than 250 people were killed in the failed putsch, in which Gulen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has denied involvement. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.

The Turkish government is seeking Gulen's extradition from the United States. The Turkish foreign minister recently announced President Donald Trump of the United States had told President Erdogan that Washington is working on extraditing Gulen.

Tens of thousands of people have been taken into custody over suspected links to Gulen since 2016 while over 100,000 -- including teachers, police officers, and judges -- have been sacked or suspended from the public sector.

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said last month that 31,088 people have been convicted or jailed over suspected Gulen links.

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