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

By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

31 Turkish officers charged over coup plot

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Friday charged 11 more ranking officers for allegedly plotting in 2003 to topple the Islamic-rooted 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 and has wielded strong influence on politics for decades but saw its powers dramatically curtailed by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that took steps to put the military under civilian rule.

The probe has fueled tensions between the government and the fiercely secular military and shaken the markets, but Erdogan dismissed calls for early elections by opposition parties. The country’s leaders, including military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug, issued a joint statement Thursday 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 after a rare, three-way meeting between Erdogan, Basbug and President Abdullah Gul.

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 with being involved, saying they were unlikely to flee.

Friday morning, police escorted the last three of almost 50 high-ranking officers who were detained Monday to the court. They included 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 that were 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 country’s military drive 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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