Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turkey: over 40 commanders held over coup plot


The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey - In a crackdown that would once have been unthinkable, Turkish police detained more than 40 high-ranking military commanders Monday for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government.

The sweep highlighted the ongoing struggle between the secular establishment and the Islamic-oriented government , and left many wondering if the military no longer called the shots in a nation accustomed to viewing it as the pillar of the secular state.

The jailing of several senior military officers , including members of the elite class known as "Pashas," a title of respect harking back to Ottoman times , proved, at the very least, that such officials are no longer untouchable.

"We could not even dream about things that we see happening now," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told CNN-Turk television Monday. "Things will get better when those who were never accountable for their deeds begin to account for them."

He said Turkey was going through a normalization process.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not comment during a visit to Madrid on Monday, saying the crackdown was carried out solely on the orders of prosecutors.

"It would not be appropriate for me to talk about an issue that is already handled by the judiciary," Erdogan said.

The military's image had already been tarnished by allegations it was secretly planning to depose Erdogan's elected government for undermining secularism in this predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.

The commanders detained Monday are reportedly accused of seeking to foment chaos by blowing up mosques to trigger a military takeover. The military denies any such plan.

But Erdogan said Sunday, before the crackdown, that the government was preserving the rule of law.

"We did not give a chance to those who tried to fly a course for Turkey outside law," he said Sunday before flying to Madrid.

Several high-ranking members of Turkey's military , including ex-deputy chief Gen. Ergin Saygun, former Air Force chief Gen. Ibrahim Firtina and Navy Chief Adm. Ozden Ornek , were among those detained. Several other senior admirals and generals were also among the suspects.
So far, prosecutors have charged more than 400 people in the case, including soldiers, academics, journalists and politicians.

No one has yet been convicted.

The detentions Monday followed the gathering of wiretap evidence and the discovery of secret weapons caches , revelations that dealt a blow to the military's credibility.

Monday's crackdown showed the level of polarization in the country, Dogu Ergil, a former political science professor at Ankara University, told private NTV television.

Turkey's secular military has ousted four governments since 1960, proof to many here that it has been the real power since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created the republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

Under European Union pressure, Erdogan has dramatically curtailed the military's power and reinforced civilian rule, while bolstering democratic institutions.

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

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