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Turkey coup plot: 12 officers charged as government takes on military

In an alleged Turkey coup plot, 12 senior officers have been charged with plotting a coup against the country's Islam-leaning civilian government. It appears to be an attempt to weaken the influence of the secular military, say analysts.

By Staff writer / February 24, 2010

Turkey coup plot? A Turkish army helicopter flies over Istanbul's Blue Mosque. The Turkish government has arrested 12 senior military officers in connection with an alleged plot to bomb mosques as a pretext for a military takeover.

Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Newscom/File

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Istanbul, Turkey

Twelve high-ranking Turkish military officers were charged Wednesday with a coup plot to topple Turkey's Islamic-rooted government, marking an escalation of the struggle between the twice-elected government of Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan and the secular establishment backed by the military.

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The Istanbul court decision came after the controversial arrest of some 50 senior military officers on Monday on suspicion of discussing plans in 2003 to overthrow the government. Turkey’s military has for decades played a predominant role in politics and has carried out four coups since 1960.

Those facing trial now include five admirals (two retired), an ex-Army general, and two retired colonels. Questioning continues of other senior officers including former chiefs of the Navy, Air Force and Special Forces.

“There is no question that civilian rule is consolidating and deepening in Turkey,” says Fadi Hakura, a Turkey specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London. “The current arrests would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, so the balance of civilian-military relations is now tipping towards stronger civilian oversight.”

While the US and European Union have pressed for more civilian control as Turkey bids for EU membership, the open clash between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the armed forces has taken on an increasingly political tone. The AKP leaders are devout Muslims and the party has sought to make Islam a more important part of Turkish public life, something that was anathema for most of modern Turkey's history.

Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug has recently charged that a “psychological campaign” is being aimed at the military, which has enjoyed near-sacred status since the modernTurkish state was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk from the remains of the defeated Ottoman empire after World War I.

Senior commanders held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to “evaluate the serious situation” in the wake of the arrests, prompting an AKP warning against any moves that might “influence” the judiciary.

The arrests on Monday marked the first time that currently serving military officers have been arrested.

Alarming zeal

Analysts say the zeal of the judiciary—and the fact that much of the evidence about the alleged “Operation Sledgehammer” has been leaked to the media—have raised alarm bells. Much of the evidence against the arrested men consists of transcripts and audiotapes of a March 2003 seminar

“A very key point is that there are legitimate concerns that perhaps the government may be pushing for a confrontation with the military, to try to undermine the reputation of the military,” says Mr. Hakura.

“More critical than any convictions is the question of perceptions. And here, according to credible opinion polls, the military appears to be losing the confidence of the Turkish public,” says Hakura. “In the last opinion poll, 63 percent of Turks expressed confidence towards the military, which compared to previous levels of 80 to 90 percent is a dramatic decline.”

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