The United States must choose between siding with a democratic Turkey or the Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said while addressing a huge crowd in Ankara on Wednesday in which he also announced an end to weeks of pro-democracy rallies across the country.
Erdogan’s comments came after repeated requests by Ankara for the extradition of Pennsylvania-based FETO leader Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the failed coup on July 15.
On Tuesday, it was reported that a former Turkish military officer, on a US-based assignment for NATO, was also seeking asylum in the country after being recalled by Ankara in the wake of last month’s attempted coup. While Erdogan made no specific mention of that report, the development had the potential to strain ties between Turkey and the US further.
Speaking to tens of thousands gathered in front of Bestepe Presidential Complex, Erdogan said: "Sooner or later the US will have to make a choice. Either Turkey or FETO (Fetullah Terror Organisation)."
"Either coup-plotting terrorist FETO or democratic country Turkey. The US has to make this choice," the president added.
Gulen is accused of leading a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
Turkey's government said the failed coup, which resulted in the deaths of 246 people and left nearly 2,200 injured, was organised by followers of FETO. The bid was thwarted when thousands of people took to the streets, standing defiantly in front of tanks in some instances.
But Erdogan said the threat of another attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government persisted and urged people to remain 'vigilant', adding "betrayal can come from anywhere and anyone".
He announced the end to weeks of "democracy watch" rallies across Turkey, the daily gatherings which have attracted hundreds of thousands of people who came out in opposition to the foiled July 15 coup. On Sunday, an estimated 5 million people attended a cross party rally, but Erdogan said it was fitting the finale took place in Ankara.
“On Sunday Turkish people made history in Yenikapi, with 5 million people attending the Democracy and Martyr's meeting, but we did not want to end the watch there, we wanted the finale to take place in Ankara.”
"Democracy watch can not only be held in certain places at certain times, we must protect our democracy everywhere, all across the nation and any given time we will be on watch. Today once again we have martyrs in Sirnak province. FETO and PKK take turns with their ‘treason watch’ but they will perish one by one during this treachery and we will continue to guard our nation," Erdogan said.
Before Erdogan's speech, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim took the stage and told the crowd: "You are the hero of democracy."
Yildirim added: "Coup plotters believed that they would defeat the nation, but they were mistaken."
He added the FETO would be held accountable before the public.
"We will certainly call the murderers to account [for their crimes]. We will impose the heaviest penalty," he added.
FETO is considered a terror organisation by Turkey, its leader Fethullah Gulen is on Turkey’s most wanted terrorists' list and is accused of establishing and leading a "parallel state," composed of a network of followers who have infiltrated state institutions.
An extensive investigation into the organisation began after FETO was accused of attempting to overthrow the democratically elected Turkish government via a judicial coup in December 2013.
Turkey has requested the extradition of Gulen, who is currently in self-imposed exile in the US.