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Turkey Frees Over 750 Soldiers After Failed Coup, Erdogan Drops Lawsuits

by Reuters /  / Updated 
Turkish army soldiers stand guard as Kurdish people wait in a hope to enter Cizre, a town subject to a curfew as part of a controversial operation against Kurdish rebels, in Mardin, for Newroz celebration, March 22. The failed military coup on July 15, left the Turkish army humiliated when it is facing the Kurdish unrest and the fight against ISIS.ILYAS AKENGIN / AFP - Getty Images

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ANKARA/ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey has released more than 750 soldiers detained after an abortive coup, state media reported on Saturday, while President Tayyip Erdogan said he would drop lawsuits against people who had insulted him, in a one-time gesture of "unity."

More than 60,000 people have been detained, removed or suspended over suspected links with the failed putsch, when a faction of the military commandeered tanks, helicopters and fighter jets and attempted to topple the government.

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Turkey's Western allies have condemned the coup, in which Erdogan has said 237 people were killed and more than 2,100 were wounded, but have been rattled by the scale of the resulting crackdown which has targeted supporters of Fethullah Gulen.

The U.S.-based Muslim cleric, accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15-16 putsch, denies the charges and Erdogan's critics say the president is using the purges to clamp down on dissent.

Erdogan, meanwhile, has said it was "shameful" that Western countries showed more interest in the fate of the plotters than in standing with a fellow NATO member and has upbraided Western leaders for not visiting after the putsch. U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, a top military official, is due to visit Turkey on Sunday.

Related: Turkey Shuts 131 Media Outlets as Post-Coup Crackdown Deepens

State-run Anadolu Agency reported that 758 soldiers were released on the recommendation of prosecutors after giving testimony, and the move was agreed by a judge.

Another 231 soldiers remain in custody, it said.

Turkey's military, the second-largest in NATO, has been hard hit in the wake of the coup, with about 40 percent of all generals and admirals dismissed.

Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik told broadcaster NTV on Friday that the shake-up was not yet over, adding that military academies would now be a target of "cleansing."

Turkey's military is already stretched, facing violence in the mainly Kurdish southeast, and Islamic State attacks on its border with Syria.

The army killed 35 Kurdish militants after they attempted to storm a base in the southeastern Hakkari province early on Saturday, military officials said.

The head of the pro-Kurdish opposition told Reuters that the government's chance to revive a wrecked peace process with Kurdish rebels has been missed as Erdogan taps nationalist sentiment to consolidate support.

Related: Turkey Detains Journalists in Erdogan's Post-Coup Crackdown

In an unexpected move, Erdogan said late on Friday he would drop, as a one-off gesture, all lawsuits filed against people for insulting him. He said the decision was triggered by feelings of "unity" against the coup attempt.

It could also be aimed at silencing his Western critics. Prosecutors have opened more than 1,800 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since he became president in 2014, the justice minister said earlier this year. Those targeted include journalists, cartoonists and even children.

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