Turkish police detained 21 alleged anti-government critics, coinciding with a hearing at the constitutional court to determine whether to outlaw the ruling AKP. (Report: N. Germain)
Turkish police Tuesday detained 21 people, including retired generals and senior journalists, as part of a controversial probe into a shadowy anti-government network, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Officials confirmed the detentions without giving any details, as opponents harshly accused the governing Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) of seeking to intimidate and silence critics.
The detentions coincided with a hearing at the Constitutional Court in which Turkey's chief prosecutor argued in favour of outlawing the AKP for undermining the country's secular system.
Police detained retired four-star generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur at their Ankara homes in the early hours of the day, Anatolia reported.
Mustafa Balbay, the Ankara representative of the secular, anti-government daily Cumhuriyet, and Sinan Aygun, head of the Ankara Chamber of Trade (ATO), were also rounded up in swoops on their homes, it said.
All four are known as vocal government critics.
Eruygur is the chairman of a hardline secularist association that led mass demonstrations against the AKP last year. He was also alleged to be one of several generals reported to have plotted a coup in 2004 to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Among those arrested in the police operation that also spread to Istanbul, the northern city of Trabzon and Antalya in the south were Ufuk Buyukcelebi, the editor-in-chief of the daily Tercuman and a retired colonel, television reports said.
Police searched the offices of Cumhuriyet, Tercuman, ATO and Eruygur's association, removing documents and computers.
The detainees were rounded up on suspicion that "they are either leaders or members of the Ergenekon terrorist group," an unnamed judicial official told Anatolia.
Ergenekon is believed to be an ultra-nationalist group that reportedly planned political disturbances and assassinations over the past years in a bid to discredit and eventually topple Erdogan's government.
Security forces are seeking three others, Anatolia reported, as the NTV news channel named one as Turhan Comez, a former dissident AKP lawmaker.
The probe into the so-called Ergenekon network has come under strong criticism because prosecutors have failed to produce an indictment and detail charges against the suspects, although the investigation began more than a year ago.
Critics say the government is deliberately expanding and prolonging the affair to intimidate opponents, and opposition parties and press groups condemned the crackdown.
"The campaign to intimidate the opposition and defenders of the secular and democratic Republic is expanding," Mustafa Ozyurek of the main opposition Republican People's Party said.
G-9, a platform grouping nine press associations, expressed dismay that "a series of detentions take place as part of the Ergenekon operation... at each stage of the closure case against the AKP" and warned that the detentions are seen as "an effort to silence opposition journalists."
The probe was launched in June 2007 after the discovery of explosives in an Istanbul house.
Retired soldiers, journalists, lawyers, underworld figures and politicians are among the 50 people arrested so far.
Date created : 2008-07-02