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3Novices:Visitors from UAE tell of Turkey coup ordeal

DUBAI // Visitors to Turkey from the UAE have told of their terrifying ordeals as they were trapped by the failed coup.

John Paravalos, 43, a businessman from Dubai, was on a Turkish Airlines flight ready to take off from Istanbul Ataturk Airport at midnight on Friday when he was asked to get off as the airport had been brought to a standstill.

"Soon after, the airport was shut down," Mr Paravalos said.

He was stranded at the airport on Saturday, waiting for information and updates on whether he would be able to take another flight. "As soon as the coup started there were no airport staff.

"There were army people on the tarmac. They started shooting up in the air so everyone was trying to run and hide.

"Then there were Erdogan supporters running through the airport screaming 'Allahu Akbar'."

Mr Paravalos saw F-16 fighters and military helicopters. "There was a lot going on all night."

Uras G, a Turkish IT consultant in Dubai was spending his annual leave in Turkey but decided to go home early - if he could.

Flights on Emirates and Etihad Airways were cancelled.

Emirates said two flights to Ataturk airport would be delayed, but all flights to Sabiha Gokcen were cancelled.

Etihad announced it was cancelling all flights on Saturday.

But Uras managed to find a flight on FlyDubai that left early on Sunday. FlyDubai said its flights were operating again on schedule and that it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

"It all started on TV when they announced that two major bridges and the Sabiha Gokcen airport was shut down," he said. "Even the TV stations had no idea why the bridges and airport were shut down.

"At first I guessed they did it to prevent a possible terrorist attack, but right after Turkish military announced they had taken control. 

"The scariest part was when they made the TRT's news presenter read the announcement of, 'We are not allowed to leave our houses and they are restricting exiting the country'.

"Later on the TV presenter Tijen Karakas announced that she had been forced to read the announcement by a group of soldiers holding guns.

"Then president Erdogan's speech followed and he encouraged people to go to the airports and streets and face off with the soldiers.

"We have heard prayers from the mosques non-stop since 1am, followed by the imams' announcement to the public to go out. We also heard war jets flying all night.

"The air traffic was shut down in Turkey and exiting the country was restricted by the military coup attempt. It felt like we were all trapped inside Turkey."

Uras and his family stayed indoors and followed the news until morning. He said they received an SMS from the Turkish government telling them to go on to the streets to defend democracy.

"Now the military coup attempt is over and people are expecting to go back to their normal lives," he said. "Obviously no one wanted a military coup and everyone was against it.

"On social media I see some people thought it was a staged coup attempt where Erdogan planned it to gain more power. And other groups were celebrating the victory against military. I hope this coup attempt brings people together instead of dividing them."

Sulaiman Al Hammadi, an Emirati father of five, was on his way to Turkey with his family when the coup started.

"They announced a state of emergency in Turkey while we are in the air and we were informed that the plane could not land at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, so the plane continued to fly for an additional half an hour before being allowed to land," Mr Al Hammadi said.

He was surprised after landing to see the airport was empty of employees and passengers.

Mr Al Hammadi and his family could not find a taxi close to the airport, so they carried their bags for a kilometre until they reached a military post, where they were prevented from crossing.

He spoke to the tourism office that had arranged his flight. One of the employees kindly allowed Mr Al Hammadi's family to stay with him while they sorted out the situation with the embassy.

He contacted the UAE Consul General in Istanbul, Khalifa Al Marzouqi, who said the mission was doing its best to help stranded Emiratis in Turkey.

"We lived through difficult hours on our arrival in Turkey, especially with the military aircraft and tanks deployed at each location in Istanbul," Mr Al Hammadi said.
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