31 high-ranking Turkish officers charged in plot to topple the Islamic-rooted government

By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

31 Turkish officers charged in coup plot

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Friday charged 11 more military officers for allegedly plotting a 2003 coup against the Islamic-based government, increasing the number of officers jailed to 31 — including seven admirals and four generals.

It is the largest-ever crackdown on Turkey’s military, which has ousted four governments since 1960. The military has wielded strong influence on politics for decades but saw its powers dramatically curtailed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which took steps to put the military under civilian rule.

“An impaired democracy is not the fate of this country,” Erdogan told lawmakers at a televised meeting Friday. “No one is above the law, no one is untouchable, no one is privileged.”

The probe has fueled tensions between the government and the fiercely secular military and shaken the markets, but Erdogan has dismissed calls for early elections by opposition parties.

Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug held a rare meeting Thursday, later issuing a joint statement seeking to ease tensions.

“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.

The 11 most recently charged officers included two active-duty admirals and one retired general. The court’s decision to jail them came after prosecutors late Thursday released the former chiefs of the navy and air force and another top general without immediately charging them, saying they were unlikely to flee.

On Friday morning, police escorted the last three of almost 50 high-ranking officers who were detained Monday to the court, including Gen. Cetin Dogan, the former chief of the 1st Army based in Istanbul and Gen. Engin Alan, former head of the Special Forces.

The suspects have reportedly denied the allegations, which include plotting to blow up mosques and kill some non-Muslim figures to foment chaos and trigger a military takeover.

Wiretap evidence and the discovery of alleged plans for a military coup prompted this week’s detentions. The recordings published on leading Web sites were allegedly conversations between ranking commanders at a military unit under Dogan’s command in Istanbul.

Alan is best known for supervising the transfer of imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan from Kenya to Turkey after his capture there in 1999. He is a highly respected commander within the military for his role in the fight against autonomy-seeking Kurdish guerrillas.

Opposition leaders claim the coup probe is tinged by politics, a charge the government rejects.

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.

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