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Political strife deepens in Turkey

Two cases have the nation on edge. While the government goes after an ultranationalist gang, prosecutors want to ban the ruling party on charges of Islamist subversion.

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The arrests have "changed the political landscape in the country for good in favor of civilian supremacy in the balance of power," says Soli Ozel, a political scientist at Istanbul Bilgi University, noting that it may be part of "a big cleaning up process, cleaning up the military from interventionists, from those who [want] to take Turkey away from its Western security orientation."

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Among those arrested last week was a high-ranking editor of a nationalist newspaper, and Sinan Aygun, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Ankara who reportedly told police: "I am being taken away because I love Ataturk!"

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been quoted in the Turkish newspaper Sabah saying, "These gangs are not new in our country. Our aim is to get rid of them." Noting the initial police raids, Mr. Erdogan said: "There is a deep Turkey working against the Deep State. This prevents [the gangs] being as active as they once were."

"The tentacles of the Deep State are obviously pretty deep, but … there is no longer a life-support system for them, partially because Turkey, to progress politically from now on, has to cleanse itself from that element," says Mr. Ozel.

He adds that legally the case against Ergenekon and the prosecutor's charges against AKP may not be related, but politically are interconnected.

"If half the things that are being said about [Ergenekon] are correct, can they really have even contemplated this without support from serving military personnel? Obviously you can get to those connections, and [so] whoever is behind the [AKP] closure case may have to think twice," says Ozel.

Despite the political uncertainty, business continues in Turkey – a novel state of affairs considering how past standoffs have crippled the economy, sometimes for even years on end.

It's a fierce power struggle that will be seen as reigniting the battle between Republican secularists and Muslim conservatives, says Hugh Pope, the Turkey analyst for the International Crisis Group. "But it's not a problem that is taking Turkey to its knees."

"The whole question is what is the rule of law, and how should Turkey be run?" says Mr. Pope. "The scene in Ankara is two points of view that can't see a way forward."

And that bolsters suspicions about the handling of both inquires. AKP backers say the case against it is a "farce," while the Ergenekon case, too, has political overtones.

Lack of public evidence means the charges "may have been exaggerated," says Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House, a London think tank. He says Ergenekon's effort appeared "a bit shambolic and ill-organized."

"It could be true," says Mr. Hakura. "But given the politically charged atmosphere, the timing of the arrests, the way they were done and the critical lack of an indictment does raise a lot of questions."

[Editor's note: The original version misidentified the subject of a forthcoming 2,500-page indictment from Turkey’s top prosecutor. It is the ultranationalist group known as "Ergenekon," not Turkey's ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP).]