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Gulen blasts 'despicable' 2016 Turkey coup bid, subsequent 'witch hunt'

© AFP/File | US-based Turkish cleric and Erdogan foe Fethullah Gulen -- shown here in July 2016 at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania -- has blasted Erdogan's government for its "witch hunt" of his followers

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, the man blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt a year ago, on Friday again denied any involvement in what he called a "despicable putsch," and called on Ankara to end its "witch hunt" of his followers.

"Accusations against me related to the coup attempt are baseless, politically motivated slanders," Gulen, who lives at a compound in rural Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

"I reiterate my condemnation of the despicable putsch and its perpetrators," he said, while decrying a government "witch hunt to weed out anyone it deems disloyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his regime."

Gulen's statement came a day before Turkey marks the first anniversary of a military-led bid to seize power from Erdogan -- a bid which Ankara says was ordered by Gulen.

Some 50,000 people have been arrested and over 100,000 fired or suspended from their jobs as Erdogan seeks to clean house.

In the latest wave of the purge, Turkey dismissed more than 7,000 police, soldiers and ministry officials under a decree published on Friday, state media reported.

Although activists and Western governments have criticized the crackdown, the government insists it is necessary to tackle the threat they say is posed by the Gulen movement.

"The last year has taken a toll on me as hundreds of thousands of innocent Turkish citizens are being punished simply because the government decides they are somehow 'connected' to me or the Hizmet movement and treats that alleged connection as a crime," Gulen said.

He called for an independent international investigation of last year's coup attempt, which left 249 people dead.

"The government's treatment of innocent citizens during the past year is dragging Turkey into the category of the countries with the worst record of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in the world," he said.

© 2017 AFP