Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turkey: 49 senior officers detained on accusations of plotting to topple the government

PanARMENIAN.Net - Turkey's once all-powerful military is facing the biggest challenge to its authority in decades after 49 senior officers were detained on accusations of plotting to topple the country's Islamist-rooted government in a violent coup.

A former deputy chief of the army, a retired air force chief, the chief of the navy and several generals and admirals were among those detained by police in a sweep carried out in eight Turkish cities. The round-up included 17 retired generals, four serving admirals and 27 lower-ranking officers.

The detentions dramatically raised the ante in a rumbling power struggling between the Justice and Development party (AKP) government and the armed forces, and prompted the army chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug, to call off a trip to Egypt.

They represented the boldest assault yet on the military's elevated status by prosecutors, who have been investigating alleged conspiracies by secularists to unseat the AKP for more than two years. The army, which has dispatched four governments in the past 50 years, was once considered all but untouchable in its role as custodian of Turkey's secular state.

Several high-ranking officers, including retired generals, are already being tried on accusations of belonging to a movement known as Ergenekon, which is said to have plotted a military coup by stoking civil unrest. Journalists, academics, lawyers and politicians are also accused of being part of Ergenekon, which the government has depicted as a cabal of secular elitists determined to maintain their privileges.

Although there was no official explanation, the latest arrests appeared to stem from a separate alleged coup plot, known as Sledgehammer, revealed by a Turkish newspaper, Taraf, last month. According to testimony in 5,000 pages of stolen army documents, the plan – dating from 2003 – envisaged a putsch against the AKP after a campaign of destabilization involving bombing mosques and provoking a war with Greece. The army has denied the documents represented a coup plot and instead described them as a "scenario".

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