20 Turkish officers jailed for plotting to topple Islamic-rooted government

By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Turkish court charges 20 officers in coup plot

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Thursday charged more ranking officers for allegedly plotting several years ago to topple the Islamic-rooted government, increasing the number of officers jailed to 20 — including five admirals and three generals.

The court in Istanbul ordered the jailing of eight more officers, including five active duty officers and two generals, pending trial early Thursday, hours before a critical meeting by the president, military chief and prime minister to discuss tensions over the largest-ever crackdown on the military in Turkey. In total, eight out of 20 were on active duty.

The unprecedented showdown between the country’s political Islamic movement and its fiercely secular founders, the military officers, worried the country’s business groups and investors, shaking the markets amid calls from the opposition parties for early elections to end the turmoil.

Gen. Ilker Basbug, the military chief, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul at the presidential palace to discuss the crackdown before noon Thursday.

The wiretap evidence and discovery of alleged military coup plans drafted in 2003 led to the detention of about 50 commanders by police in a sweep Monday. Among them are former chiefs of the Navy, Air Force and Special Forces. The plotters are accused of planning to blow up mosques and kill some non-Muslim minority figures to foment chaos to trigger a military takeover, reports said Thursday.

The Turkish military, for years the final judge of whether civilian governments were up to snuff, is on the defensive. The Islamic-leaning government appears to be waging a dogged campaign to curb its sway over the country’s political life.

Economy Minister Ali Babacan attempted to ease concerns, saying the government was trying to put the military under civilian rule as in the West.

“Transformations may sometimes be painful,” Babacan said Wednesday. “We are trying to make Turkey’s democracy first class.”

Four times since 1960, the military, which views itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular tradition, has overthrown civilian governments. But observers say this government’s success in reining in inflation, coupled with its reformist record as it works to join the European Union, appears to have given it the courage to take the military on.

Many in the military accuse the government of nurturing fundamentalism. Taraf newspaper this week reported that sentries at a military unit were ordered to use the code: “Vile” and password: “Prime Minister” an apparent reflection of the tensions. The military said it had launched an investigation.

Despite criticism, the military is still venerated in Turkey. But members of the ruling party sounded resolute.

“No one will be able to prevent Turkey’s development,” said Salih Kapusuz, a prominent lawmaker of Erdogan’s party on Wednesday. “No one, neither politicians nor soldiers … are above the law.”

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