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

By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Turkish PM: All linked to coup plot will be tried

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s prime minister vowed Friday to put everyone who conspired against the country’s democracy on trial, as the number of military officers charged and jailed for allegedly plotting a 2003 coup against his Islamic-based government rose to 31.

The number includes seven admirals and four generals and it represents the largest-ever crackdown on Turkey’s military, which has ousted four civilian governments since 1960.

In a new nationwide sweep Friday, police detained 18 more officers, all but one of whom are still on active duty, television stations said.

The officers were detained in 13 different cities and were being transferred to Istanbul, the reports said. It brings the total of officers detained this week to 67.

The military has wielded strong influence on politics for decades, but has seen 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. “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 by opposition parties for early elections.

“The process under way is painstaking, but it is for the benefit of the people, today’s developments are setting free the consciousness of the people,” Erdogan said. “Those conspiring behind closed doors to trample on the nation’s will from now on will find themselves facing justice.”

He added: “They should know that they won’t get away with it.”

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek stressed the need to overhaul the Constitution, a legacy of the 1980 military coup, to elevate democratic standards to the level of the European Union in an effort to boost Turkey’s membership bid.

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 more officers to the court for questioning, including Gen. Cetin Dogan, the former chief of the 1st Army based in Istanbul and Gen. Engin Alan, former head of the Special Forces.

All 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.

President Abdullah Gul, addressing businessmen and industrialists, tried to ease concerns over the government’s showdown with the military.

“Have no doubt, Turkey’s future is really bright. Do not become fixed in this and become demoralized,” Gul said. “All these will pass. These kinds of things happened in many countries. Our laws, rules, everything is working. Our parliament is working.”

Associated Press writer Gulden Alp in Ankara contributed to this report.

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