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Turkey's Gul seeks to calm military 'coup plot' fears

25 February 2010 05:35 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Turkey's president has said tensions over an alleged military coup plot will be resolved within the law, after meeting the head of the armed forces. President Abdullah Gul made the statement after a summit with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and armed forces chief Gen Ilker Basbug. Tension between the government and the military has risen following a round of arrests over the alleged plot. Twenty military officers were charged this week in connection with the case. They were among more than 40 officers arrested on Monday.
 

The retired head of the air force Ibrahim Firtina and former navy chief Ozden Ornek were in court on Thursday morning for questioning and could still be charged. After several hours of talks on Thursday, Mr Gul sought to reassure the country. "It was stressed that citizens can be sure that the problems on the agenda will be solved within the framework of the constitution and our laws," a statement from his office said. Mr Erdogan was quoted by local media as saying Thursday's meeting had gone "very well". The military has denied any coup plot and has held its own officers' summit to discuss the "serious situation" in the wake of the latest arrests.
 

Unprecedented operation

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says the Turkish government is embroiled in the greatest test yet of its authority over the armed forces. Turkey's military has overthrown or forced the resignation of four governments since 1960 - most recently in 1997 - though Gen Basbug has insisted that coups are a thing of the past. The scale of Monday's operation against the military was unprecedented. Those arrested include two serving admirals, three retired admirals and three retired generals.
 

A number of them are being kept in jail while 12 have reportedly been freed. Dozens of current or former members of the military have been arrested in the past few years over similar plot allegations, and some have been charged. The latest men to be charged were arrested over the so-called "sledgehammer" plot, which reportedly dates back to 2003. Reports of the alleged plot first surfaced in the liberal Taraf newspaper, which said it had discovered documents detailing plans to bomb two Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane over the Aegean Sea.
 

The army has said the scenarios were discussed but only as part of a planning exercise at a military seminar. The alleged plot is similar, and possibly linked, to the reported Ergenekon conspiracy, in which military figures and staunch secularists allegedly planned to foment unrest, leading to a coup. Scores of people, including military officers, journalists and academics, are on trial in connection with that case.


'Painful transformation'


Analysts say the crackdown on the military would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. The army has regarded itself as the guardian of a secular Turkish state, but its power has been eroded in recent years, with Turkey enacting reforms designed to prepare it for entry to the European Union. Many Turks regard the cases as the latest stage in an ongoing power struggle between Turkey's secular nationalist establishment and the governing AK Party.
 

Critics believe the Ergenekon and sledgehammer investigations are simply attempts to silence the government's political and military opponents. The AK Party has its roots in political Islam, and is accused by some nationalists of having secret plans to turn staunchly secular Turkey into an Islamic state. The government rejects those claims, saying its intention is to modernise Turkey and move it closer to EU membership. Transformations may sometimes be painful," Economy Minister Ali Babacan said Wednesday. "We are trying to make Turkey's democracy first class." - BBC
 

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