Turkey’s leaders, military chief issue joint call for calm; PM says no early elections

By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Turkish PM dismisses call for early elections

ANKARA, Turkey — A confident Turkish prime minister dismissed opposition calls for early elections Thursday and met with the country’s military chief to defuse tensions over the government’s probe into an alleged military coup plot.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning government has detained over 50 high-ranking military officers this week for allegedly plotted to overthrow his government in 2003, a year after his party came to power. So far, 20 have been charged in the government’s largest-ever crackdown on the military.

The tensions between Turkey’s two main political forces — the Islamic-based government and the fiercely secular military — have worried businesses and investors, shaking the markets. Opposition parties have urged early elections to end the turmoil.

Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul held a rare, three-hour meeting Thursday with Gen. Ilker Basbug, chief of the military, and afterward all three issued a joint statement.

“The public must be assured that matters will be handled in line with the law and everyone should act responsibly not to damage institutions,” the statement said.

Television channels quoted Erdogan as saying that “it was a pleasant meeting.” But in pictures and video distributed by the palace, the military chief looked anxious and uneasy. Both Basbug and Erdogan carried briefcases — something unusual — and sat around a small round table.

Later, Erdogan sounded even more confident.

“Keep watching us,” Erdogan said on CNN-Turk television. “Early elections is certainly not on our party’s agenda, everyone should know this.”

Opposition leaders claim the coup probe is tinged by politics, a charge the government rejects. It says it is trying to put the military, which has ousted four civilian governments since 1960, under civilian rule, just like it is done in western democracies.

An analyst said the seeming consensus Thursday might be cosmetic.

“The summit meeting was aimed at easing tensions,” said Tufan Turenc, a political analyst for the daily Hurriyet newspaper. “But unfortunately, the institutions are in a position not to trust each other anymore.”

A Turkish court on Thursday formally charged eight more military officers of plotting to topple the government, increasing the number of officers who have been charged and jailed to 20 — including five admirals and three generals.

Police also escorted several other officers — including former chiefs of the navy and air force and the ex-deputy chief of the military — to the courthouse for questioning on Thursday.

Wiretap evidence and the discovery of alleged plans for a military coup drafted in 2003 — a year after the current Islamic-based government was elected — led to the detention of about 50 military commanders by police on Monday.

The court must decide whether to formally charge, arrest and jail them. Some are accused of plotting to blow up mosques and kill some non-Muslim figures to foment chaos and trigger a military takeover.

Turkey’s top court has warned that no one was immune from prosecution if they violate the law.

It is widely believed that Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, then head of the military, did not back his subordinates. He has not been implicated in the alleged plot.

Sedat Laciner, head of the Ankara-based think tank USAK, said the military was particularly uneasy over the fact that it failed to punish its own, and that left those officers to the mercy of civilians.

“Today soldiers are on trial in civilian courts, which did not happen before,” he noted.

Associated Press Writer Ceren Kumova in Ankara contributed to this report.

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