Turkey jails former leader of its once-exalted military
The jailing of Turkey's former top military official, pending a trial on charges of terrorism and plotting to bring down the government, is only the latest of hundreds of arrests of those who pose a threat to the government's power.
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Turkey's top military official until 2010 was jailed today on charges of supporting terrorism and conspiring to bring down the government. The arrest of Gen. Ilker Basburg, the former chief of general staff, is the latest in a series of arrests this year of military officials, politicians, journalists, activists, and academics, which have prompted warnings that the "democratic model" of the Middle East is sliding into authoritarianism.
The government has been investigating a series of alleged antigovernment plots within the military. Gen. Basburg was questioned today about accusations that the military funded dozens of websites aimed at undermining the Turkish government. Many other lower-ranking military officials have already been questioned, saying that they were merely acting in a chain of command, the Washington Post reports. Hundreds have been put on trial.
Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the political clout of Turkey's military – formerly the country's most powerful institution – has been greatly reduced. For decades the military called the shots in the country, staging three coups, and kept the country relentlessly secular, forcing an Islamist prime minister to quit at one point. Last year, the nation's top four military leaders resigned in protest of the arrests of military officials, the Washington Post reports. Some 58 active generals or admirals are in jail, according to the military.
The government's successful reduction of the military's power has been popular with the public, but the "wide net" cast in investigations and the prosecution of the suspects in the coup plot cases under antiterrorism laws has concerned even those who want to see the military's influence reduced, the Wall Street Journal reports. Defendants argue that the coup plot cases are a political tool to "discredit and weaken" the military.
"The fact that prosecutors are now touching senior generals is a turning point in the democratisation process of Turkey. Many were sceptical that prosecutors would go this far," military affairs analyst Lale Kemal told Reuters. "I would not be surprised if we see some commanders resign (if Basbug is remanded in custody) but I do not expect this to bring serious instability to Turkey," she said.