Turkey has said that it will close more than 600 private schools and dormitories following an attempted coup.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it has fired nearly 22,000 education ministry workers, mostly teachers, taken steps to revoke the licences of 21,000 other teachers at private schools and sacked or detained half a dozen university presidents in a campaign to root out alleged supporters of a US-based Muslim cleric blamed for the botched insurrection on Friday.
While Mr Erdogan is seeking to consolidate the power of his elected government in the wake of the attempt to oust him, his crackdown could further polarise a country that once enjoyed a reputation for relative stability in the turbulent Mideast region.
It also raises questions about the effectiveness of the military, courts and other institutions that are now being purged.
“The fact that so many judges have been detained, never mind the workload at the courthouses, will render them inoperable,” said Vildan Yirmibesoglu, a human rights lawyer. “How they will fill the vacancies, I don’t know.”
The education ministry said it decided to close 626 private schools and other establishments that are under investigation for “crimes against the constitutional order and the running of that order”, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The agency said the schools are linked to Gulen, a former ally of Mr Erdogan who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and has denied accusations that he engineered the coup attempt that was quashed by security forces and protesters loyal to the government.
Turkey has repeatedly named Gulen as the instigator of its turmoil and demands his extradition from the United States, which has said any such process must follow the law.
The two allies cooperate in the US-led war against the Islamic State group, with American military planes flying missions from Turkey’s Incirlik air base into neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
Turkey’s domestic situation is increasingly a concern as the government seeks to rid broad sectors of society of alleged antagonists.
Huseyin Ozev, an education union leader in Istanbul, said state education workers who were reported to have been fired had not received notices and that employees were “waiting at home or on vacation, anxiously”, to see if they had lost their jobs.
Any workers suspected of wrongdoing should undergo a formal investigation and the fight against coup plotters “should not be turned into a witch hunt”, Mr Ozev said.
In other moves against education, Turkey demanded the resignations of 1,577 university deans and halted foreign assignments for state-employed academics. A total of 50,000 civil service employees have been fired in the purges, which have reached Turkey’s national intelligence service and the prime minister’s office.
Mr Erdogan held an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers and security advisers late on Wednesday.
The president, who has said he narrowly escaped being killed or captured by renegade military units, previously declared that an “important decision” would be announced after the meeting.
The government has also revoked the press credentials of 34 journalists because of alleged ties to Gulen’s movement, Turkish media reported.
A satirical magazine, Leman, said authorities blocked the distribution of a special edition over its cover featuring a caricature in which two mysterious hands play a game of strategy, one pushing soldiers on to the board and the other responding by sending civilians.
Authorities have rounded up close to 9,000 people – including 115 generals, 350 officers and some 4,800 other military personnel – for alleged involvement in the coup attempt.
Turkey’s defence ministry has also sacked at least 262 military court judges and prosecutors, according to Turkish media reports.
The coup has led to public anger and calls for the government to reinstate the death penalty, a demand that Mr Erdogan has said he will consider.
Hasan Ay, a municipal worker in Istanbul, said he wanted coup ringleaders to be executed.
“I am not talking about the private soldiers. They said on television that some of the privates were innocent,” Mr Ay said.
The instability is hurting confidence in the Turkish economy. The Turkish currency dropped 1.8% against the US dollar on Wednesday, trading at a low for the year of just over three lira to the dollar.
Officials have raised the death toll from the violence surrounding the coup attempt to 240 government supporters. At least 24 coup plotters were also killed.
The purges against suspected Gulen supporters follow earlier aggressive moves by Mr Erdogan’s administration against Gulen loyalists in the government, police and judiciary following corruption probes targeting Erdogan associates and family members in late 2013 – prosecutions the government says were orchestrated by Gulen.