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Turkish president joins thousands marking one year since failed coup

Tens of thousands of people have joined a national unity march in Istanbul, converging at the July 15 Martyrs' Bridge to mark the anniversary of the failed military coup attempt that 250 people died resisting.

As part of the commemoration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Istanbul on Saturday and was photographed waving at a fighter jet escorting his aircraft.

Accompanied by his grandchildren and relatives of the deceased, Mr Erdogan then joined the crowd on the bridge to unveil a Martyrs' Memorial to honour those who died opposing the coup.

The massive crowd waved large red Turkish flags on the bridge and the road connecting to it, while photographs of the "martyrs" were displayed on monitors and their names were read out.

Marches were also taking place in the capital Ankara.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke at a special parliamentary session in Ankara attended by Mr Erdogan.

"It has been exactly one year since Turkey's darkest and longest night was transformed into a bright day, since an enemy occupation turned into the people's legend," Mr Yildirim said.

Turkish soldiers attempted to overthrow the government and the president using tanks, warplanes and helicopters on July 15, 2016.

The coup plotters declared their seizure of power on the state broadcaster, bombed the country's parliament and other key locations, and raided an Aegean resort where Mr Erdogan had been on holiday.

But the president had already left and the coup attempt was quashed by civilians and security forces.

The Bosporus Bridge, now called the July 15 Martyrs' Bridge, was the scene of clashes between civilians and soldiers in tanks.

Some 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured across Turkey in the struggle. Thirty-five coup plotters were also killed.

Mr Yildirim thanked the thousands who heeded a call by Mr Erdogan to flood the streets to resist the coup.

"We are able to come together again here today because of our 250 heroic martyrs, 2,193 heroic veterans and the great Turkish people. Your country is grateful to you," Mr Yildirim said.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Turkey declared a state of emergency that has been in place ever since, which has allowed the government to rule by decree and to dismiss tens of thousands of people from their jobs.

More than 50,000 people have also been arrested for alleged links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for orchestrating the failed coup, and other terror groups. Mr Gulen has denied the allegations.

In the latest government decree published on Friday evening, 7,395 more state employees were fired, including teachers, academics, military and police officers, bringing the number of dismissed to more than 110,000.

The government calls the crackdown necessary to purge state institutions of those linked to Mr Gulen, but critics say the dismissals are arbitrary.

The US State Department issued a statement on Saturday praising the bravery of the Turkish people who took to the streets to "preserve the rights and freedoms of their democratic society" one year ago.

"The preservation of democracy requires perseverance, tolerance, dissent and safeguards for fundamental freedoms," the agency said, warning that curbs on those key freedoms erode "the foundations of democratic society".

The statement added: "More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times."

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg paid homage to those who lost lives resisting the coup and said attempts to undermine democracy in any one of the allied nations is "unacceptable".

AP

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