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In Commemoration Erdogan Threatens To 'Chop Off The Heads' Of Traitors

People holding Turkish flags rally on the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt in Istanbul.

Tens of thousands of people waving Turkish flags joined a national unity march in Istanbul on July 15, converging at an iconic bridge to mark the anniversary of a military coup attempt in which hundreds were killed.

The Bosphorus Bridge, now called the July 15 Martyrs' Bridge, was the scene of clashes between civilians and soldiers in tanks on July 15 last year. Some 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured across Turkey in the struggle. Thirty-five coup plotters were also killed.

As part of the commemoration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoganjoined the crowd near the bridge where he unveiled a martyr's memorial to honor those who died opposing the coup.

Erdogan, who was accompanied by children wearing shirts with Turkish flags and relatives of the deceased, promised to punish his enemies and praised the unarmed civilians who stood up to the coup plotters.

Striking a grim note, Erdogan threatened to "chop off the heads" of traitors, prompting cries from the crowds that capital punishment should be restored in Turkey. He reaffirmed "I will sign it" if parliament passes any bill on resuming executions.

Erdogan then said those being tried on suspicion of involvement in the attempted coup should wear "uniform suits like in Guantanamo" when appearing in court -- a reference to the orange jumpsuits used at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Marches were also taking place in Ankara.

Earlier in the day, Erdogan and members of the opposition came together in parliament to mark the anniversary of last year's failed coup.

Turkish soldiers attempted to overthrow the government and the president using tanks, warplanes, and helicopters on July 15, 2016. The coup attempt was put down by civilians and security forces.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Turkey declared a state of emergency that has been in place ever since that 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 U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for orchestrating the failed coup, and other terror groups.

A giant billboard in Istanbul reads "Legend of July 15" for the anniversary of the failed coup.
A giant billboard in Istanbul reads "Legend of July 15" for the anniversary of the failed coup.

Gulen has denied the allegations.

In the latest government decree published July 14, almost 7,400 more state employees were fired, including teachers, academics, military and police officers, bringing the number of dismissed to more than 110,000.

Authorities claim the crackdown is necessary to purge state institutions of those linked to Gulen.

Critics, including rights groups and some Western governments, say Erdogan is using the state of emergency introduced after the coup to target opposition figures including rights activists, pro-Kurdish politicians, and journalists.

The U.S. State Department on July 15 issued a statement praising the bravery of the Turkish people who took to the streets to "preserve the rights and freedoms of their democratic society."

But the statement also warned that curbs on key freedoms erode "the foundations of democratic society."

"The preservation of democracy requires perseverance, tolerance, dissent, and safeguards for fundamental freedoms," it said.

"More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg paid homage to those who lost their lives resisting the coup and said attempts to undermine democracy in any one of the allied nations was "unacceptable."

July 15 has been declared a national holiday in Turkey.

Public transportation in Istanbul and Ankara is free over the weekend and bus destination signs displayed messages of congratulations.

In the run-up to the anniversary, Turkish media has been saturated by coverage of last year's failed coup, with some channels showing almost constant footage of young men and even head-scarved mothers facing down armed soldiers and tanks in Istanbul.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa