Turkish general calls for calm after detentions

2/07/2008 - 15:56

By Paul de Bendern

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's second most powerful militarycommander called for calm on Wednesday after two prominentretired generals were detained in a widening policeinvestigation into a suspected coup plot against thegovernment.

"Turkey is passing through difficult days. We all have tobe acting with more common sense, more carefully and moreresponsibly," land forces commander General Ilker Basbug, whois due to take charge of the military in August, toldreporters.

Police detained 21 people on Tuesday as part of a year-longinvestigation into Ergenekon, a shadowy, ultra-nationalist andhardline secularist group suspected of planning bombings andassassinations calculated to trigger a military takeover.

Turkish financial markets recovered losses after fallingsharply on Tuesday on concerns over prolonged tensions in acountry all too familiar with military interventions.

The high-profile detentions of known critics of thegovernment come as the ruling AK Party fights for its survivalin court. The chief prosecutor of the Court of Appeals isseeking the closure of the AK Party on charges of Islamistactivities. The party denies the charges.

NTV broadcaster reported Istanbul Deputy Chief ProsecutorTurhan Colakkadi as saying an indictment against Ergenekon hadbeen completed and its members would be tried for terrorism.

The detentions of powerful retired first army chief GeneralHursit Tolon and retired gendarmerie forces commander GeneralSener Eruygur inside their army residences sent shockwaves in acountry where the military has an almost untouchable status.

The military said the raids were within the law.

Other prominent figures detained included an editor ofnewspaper Cumhuriyet, politicians and the chairman of theAnkara Chamber of Commerce -- all vocal critics of the rulingAK Party.

"The raids yesterday were reminiscent of previous coups andare not acceptable," Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the influentialchairman of the Turkish Union of Chambers and CommoditiesExchanges, said in a speech at the Ankara Chamber of Commerce.

The fresh detentions revived a debate in Turkey overwhether the allegations of a coup against the AK Party heldwater or were used to suppress government opponents, newspaperssaid.


Small anti-government demonstrations broke out in Istanbul,Izmir, Denizli and Bodrum, Turkish media reported.

Turkey, while predominantly Muslim, has a secularconstitution, and the military considers itself the ultimateguardian of the republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Itremains at odds with the AK Party over the role of religion inpublic life, an issue which has polarised Turkey for decades.

Turkey has had four military coups in the last 50 years.The most recent was a 1997 'soft coup', when the generals edgedfrom power a government they considered Islamist using publicand behind-the-scenes pressure.

"I'm watching these events unfold with great concern givenTurkey's history of military interventions. There is clearly afight between two power groups and no one is yet willing toback down," said a senior EU diplomat, who declined to benamed.

The raids came hours before the Constitutional Court beganhearing a case in which the AK Party is charged with trying toestablish an Islamic state and could be closed, a move thatmight lead to an early parliamentary election.

The prosecutor also wants Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan andother top figures banned from party politics for five years.

The AK Party, which won a sweeping re-election last year,will present its defence in court on Thursday.

Turkish media said the fresh indictment did not yet involvethe 21 people detained on Tuesday but 49 others, includingretired army officers, lawyers and politicians, already underarrest for suspected links to Ergenekon.

The Ergenekon scandal has shone a spotlight on Turkey's"deep state", code for ultra-nationalists in the securityforces and state bureaucracy who are ready to bend the law oract against the government in pursuit of their political aims.

The military has denied any links to the group.

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