Turkish military coup plot alleged

Police arrest 52 commanders

By Selcan Hacaoglu
Associated Press / February 23, 2010

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ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish police detained 52 military commanders yesterday for allegedly planning to blow up mosques in order to trigger a military takeover and overthrow the Islamic-rooted government.

The nationwide 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.

Turkey’s senior military leaders were once untouchable. Some were members of Turkey’s elite warrior class known as “pashas,’’ a title of respect harking back to Ottoman times.

But yesterday, the balance of power in this European Union candidate appeared to have undergone a major shift.

The detentions showed that the elected government is trying to take the upper hand against the military, which has ousted four governments since 1960 and held influence since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created the secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

With strong electoral backing and support from the European Union, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has curtailed military power and signaled further tough steps to rein in the generals. But yesterday’s detentions, which followed the gathering of wiretap evidence and the discovery of secret weapons caches, marks the highest-profile crackdown to date.

Police in simultaneous operations in eight cities detained 21 generals and admirals, including former deputy chief General Ergin Saygun, former Air Force chief General Ibrahim Firtina, and Navy Chief Admiral Ozden Ornek.

They are also accused of conspiring to plan shooting down a Turkish warplane to trigger armed conflict with Greece in a bid to destabilize the Turkish government. The military strongly denies the allegations.

Erdogan declined to comment yesterday on the raids, saying they had been carried out on prosecutors’ orders. However on Sunday, Erdogan said his government had not given “a chance to those who tried to fly a course for Turkey outside the law.’’

A spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party expressed concern over the detentions.

“These are grave incidents, severe incidents for society, for the Turkish armed forces,’’ Mustafa Ozyurek said. “Legally, and from a human rights perspective, there must be a speedy trial.’’

Erdogan denies the ongoing crackdown is politically motivated or designed to silence government critics.