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Turkey's purge cuts military by a third: Council of Europe

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey’s purge of its military since a botched coup in July has cut its armed forces by a third, the Council of Europe said on Monday, after NATO raised concerns that Turkey’s response to the failed coup has worryingly thinned its forces.

The council, Europe’s leading human rights organization with 47 member states including Turkey, said that over 125,000 people across Turkish society had been dismissed from jobs, as of Dec. 9, and almost 40,000 people had been arrested.

The study listed the arrest of 140 journalists and the closure of 177 media outlets, although 11 of those were subsequently reopened. More than 2,000 schools, universities and dormitories have been shut down.

The data, which counts all military dismissals from July to October, indicated that almost half of all Turkey’s generals have been fired while the number of new, low-ranking privates contracted had jumped by a fifth.

“The dismissal of a number of members of the Turkish armed forces resulted in a decrease, by one third, of military personnel,” the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly said in its study.

Turkish officials roundly reject any suggestion that NATO’s second-largest army has been weakened. They say the military has become more loyal and effective with the removal of rogue officers, some of whom commandeered tanks, jets and helicopters in their attempt to seize power on July 15.

Since the coup attempt, Turkey has launched a military incursion into Syria to clear Islamic State militants from its border, and stepped up its campaign against Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

That is evidence, the officials say, of the military’s abilities to maintain its commitments to both NATO and Turkey. They also say that the scale of the crackdown was justified by the gravity of the attempted coup.

NATO’s top commander said this month said he had raised concerns with Turkey about the impact of the purge on its armed forces. Last month a sacked Turkish general assigned to NATO in Germany told Reuters the crackdown was inflicting deep, long-term damage on the Turkish military.

The study by the Council of Europe, whose legal experts have said the scale of the purge is unconstitutional, showed that overall, the Turkish armed forces saw its numbers drop to 355,212 in October from 518,166 before the coup bid.

The military counted 201 generals in October, down from 358 on July 1. However, a 20 percent surge in the number of newly contracted privates had offset some of the fall. Turkey’s defense ministry also announced plans in November to hire 30,000 new personnel from military and naval academy students.

The Turkish military has previously confirmed that its forces, excluding coastguard and gendarmes, totaled 391,695 as of Sept. 8. That includes 206 generals and admirals. Last month, the armed forces said it employed nearly 360,000.

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; editing by Mark Heinrich