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Obama urges Turkey to 'act within the rule of law'

WASHINGTON, United States – US President Barack Obama on Saturday, July16, called on Turkey's leaders to respect the rule of law as they round up the alleged leaders of a shock coup d'etat attempt.

Obama stressed the "vital need for all parties in Turkey to act within the rule of law and to avoid actions that would lead to further violence or instability," the White House said.

The long-time allies faced tension following the attempted military coup that took over the streets of two major Turkish cities, Istanbul and capital Ankara on Friday, July 15.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind Friday's bloody coup attempt that has killed at least 265 people, and urged the United States to extradite to Turkey the "man who lives in Pennsylvania."

Gulen, a reclusive preacher with a worldwide following who is regularly accused of a behind the scenes role in Turkish politics, lives in Saylorsburg, a tiny town in the Pocono Mountains of the US state of Pennsylvania.

The cleric denied any involvement in the attempted putsch.

"I don't know who my followers are," Gulen told The New York Times from his compound, when asked if any of his backers were involved in the coup attempt.

"Since I do not know these individuals, I cannot speak of their potential involvement. It could be something from the opposition or nationalists. I have been away from Turkey for 30 years and have not been following this."

Gulen, however, surmised it was "possible" that the coup was initiated by Erdogan.

"But as a believer like myself, I cannot make accusations without evidence. It could be a lie, it could be a false accusation and I seek refuge from God in false accusations," Gulen said.

"Some leaders stage... false suicide attacks to strengthen their hand, such people may come up with such scenarios. As a believer, I cannot make false accusations."

Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would assist Turkey in the investigation of the failed coup and invited Ankara to share any evidence it had against Gulen.

Gulen, 75, was once a close ally of Erdogan but the two fell out in recent years as Erdogan became suspicious of Gulen's movement, Hizmet, and its powerful presence in Turkish society, including the media, police and judiciary.

The preacher moved to the United States in 1999, before he was charged with treason in his native country.

He has since led a secluded life in Pennsylvania, declining interviews and rarely making public appearances.

Discouraged to travel

US warned its citizens against travel to Turkey despite the country regaining control. 

"The US Department of State warns US citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey," a statement read.

"In light of the July 15 coup attempt and its aftermath, we suggest US citizens reconsider travel to Turkey at this time."

The State Department said travel restrictions have been imposed on US government personnel in southeastern Turkey.

"US citizens are reminded to review personal security plans and remain vigilant at all times," it added.

"Foreign and US tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations."

The US government suspended all flights to Turkey, and banned all airlines from flying to the United States from Turkey due to uncertainty after Friday's failed coup -- in line with many other international carriers. –