Turkey's premier earns plaudits for move seen as challenging military. But veto of choice for top post may jolt fragile civilian-Army ties

With action the local press describes as a ``coup'' against the Army, Turkey's civilian government has asserted its authority over the military in a manner unprecedented in recent years. The decision last week not to follow the traditional military line of succession in appointing an armed forces chief of staff has cheered those favoring civilian control of the military, but it has also raised the specter of conflict between the military and civilian authority.

Prime Minister Turgut Ozal startled his countrymen by vetoing the appointment of Gen. Necdet Oztorun, commander of Turkey's ground forces, as the new chief of staff, and naming instead the deputy chief of staff, Gen. Necip Torumtay, to the post.

Although Mr. Ozal has the constitutional authority to make such a move, the military leadership has traditionally handled such appointments within its own inner circle: The high command has always decided and the government approved.

A commentator in Milliyet, a leading daily, said Ozal's action amounted to the ``smashing of a taboo,'' because military institutions and practices in Turkey are not the subject of public discussion nor of criticism and challenge by civilians.

But in this case, Ozal - the first civilian head of government since the 1980 military coup - challenged the wishes of the military leadership. He talked with President Kenan Evren - a former chief of staff who led the 1980 coup - before taking the step and apparently won his support in overriding the appointment.

Ozal's hand appears to have been strengthened by this bold move. Even his critics have welcomed the reassertion of civilian authority. Ereal Inonu, leader of the opposition Social Democratic People's Party, said: ``This is in line with our concept of civilian rule.... Another major step has been taken toward democracy in Turkey.'' Cumhuriyet, a leftist daily, noted that this decision has advanced ``the civilianization and democratization process'' in this country.

But General Oztorun, his pride badly hurt, has told reporters that Ozal's behavior would not help democracy. ``This action tends to bring politics into the armed forces,'' he said. ``This may cause serious consequences.''

The move shocked military leaders, and senior officers have complained privately and in public that the dignity and prestige of the armed forces are now at stake.

Western observers rule out any counteraction by the military. But they fear that the military's uneasiness and divergence of views with the present government could continue.

What led Ozal to get rid of Oztorun is widely speculated upon here. Several factors seem to have pushed the prime minister toward the decision. The latest ``incident'' was the ``lack of communications'' between Oztorun and Ozal following the recent Kurdish terrorist attack on a southeastern Turkish village that involved the massacre of 30 people. Ozal was furious that he was not informed about the attack for several hours. He also felt there had been ``some negligence'' in responding to the attack, and ordered an investigation.

Another factor seems to be Oztorun's differing views on several important issues. He has spoken critically in recent months of the government's ``weakness'' toward Islamic fundamentalists. Oztorun is also said to have expressed disapproval of Ozal's liberal economic policies and his ``softness'' toward Greece during last spring's crisis over territorial waters in the Aegean Sea.

Ozal is said to have felt that he and Oztorun would not get along and that this could have caused problems for him in the future.

General Torumtay, the newly appointed chief of staff, is known to be more flexible than Oztorun and is also highly regarded by the United States.

Although the storm caused by Ozal's announcement is beginning to subside, the relationship between the civilian and military four years after the military handed over power to an elected government seems to remain fragile.

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