Turkey halts activities of 370 groups as purge widens

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has halted the activities of 370 non-governmental groups including human rights and children’s organizations over their alleged terrorist links, the government said as it widens purges following a failed coup in July.

A man waves Turkey's national flag during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally, organized by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and supported by ruling AK Party (AKP), oppositions Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to protest against last month's failed military coup attempt, in Istanbul, Turkey, August 7, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus defended the ban on the activities of the NGOs operating across the country, which was announced by the Interior Ministry late on Friday.

“The organizations are not shut down, they are being suspended. There is strong evidence that they are linked to terrorist organizations,” Kurtulmus said.

“Turkey has to fight terrorism on so many different fronts. We are trying to clear the state institutions from Gulenists. At the same time we are fighting against Kurdish militants and Islamic State,” Kurtulmus told reporters on Saturday.

More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and 37,000 arrested since the failed putsch for suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the plot. He denies the accusations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan calls the exiled cleric’s network the “Gulenist Terror Organisation” and says the unprecedented crackdown is crucial to rid state institutions of infiltrators seeking to topple the government.

Of the 370 associations affected by Friday’s ban, 153 were allegedly linked to the Gulen movement, 190 to the Kurdish militant group PKK, 19 to the far-leftist militant group DHKP-C, and eight to Islamic State, the interior ministry said.

It added that investigations into the groups were continuing and pledged “determination to fight all kinds of structures, groups and institutions with links to terror organizations.”

Among the groups affected were bodies representing lawyers and the Union of Turkish Bar Associations vowed to “take a stand against any unlawful intervention on legal firms.”

“It’s impossible for us to find the closure or activity cessation of organizations without court rulings democratic,” it added in a statement.

The scale of the purges has alarmed Turkey’s Western allies and foreign investors.

Human rights groups and opposition parties say Erdogan, who traces his political roots to a banned Islamist party, is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle all dissent in the European Union-candidate nation.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Can Sezer; Editing by Helen Popper