Former navy and air force chiefs are released in 'coup' probe
Turkish prosecutors have released the former heads of the country's navy and air force (pictured) after questioning them in connection with an alleged plot to topple the Islamist-rooted government, the Anatolia news agency reports.
AFP - A Turkish court Thursday freed two of the seniormost suspects in an alleged 2003 military coup plot hours after the army chief and civilian leadership pledged to resolve tensions sparked by the probe.
The former heads of Turkey's navy and air force, Ozden Ornek and Ibrahim Firtina, were freed after being questioned by Istanbul prosecutors over an alleged plot to foment unrest and justify a military takeover from the Islamist-rooted government, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Earlier Thursday, a statement issued after talks between President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug said "the problems will be resolved within the constitutional order."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan limited his comments to "it was a very good meeting" but analysts said the divide between government and army remained gaping though tensions were likely to ease in the short term.
Gul called the meeting after the army spoke of a "serious situation" following the arrest Monday of some 50 serving and retired officers over an alleged plan to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government in 2003.
The probe marked a new low in ties between government and military, already strained since last year amid allegations that army members made a series of plans to discredit and unseat the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement.
But political scientist Dogu Ergil said clashes will continue to erupt as long as the army, the self-declared guardian of Turkey's secular system, insists on defining its duty as "protecting the republic and its gains".
AKP supporters say the army, which has unseated four governments and wielded considerable political influence, must be forced to stop meddling in politics.
Opponents allege the AKP is trying to disable the army and realise its alleged Islamist ambitions under the guise of democratisation.
Basbug himself has decried a campaign to smear the military, while repeatedly pledging his commitment to democracy.
Earlier Thursday, the Istanbul court ruled that another eight people should be kept in jail pending trial, bringing the number of detained suspects to 20, Anatolia news agency reported. A total of 12 suspects have been released.
The purported plot, codenamed "Operation Sledgehammer", is said to have been drawn up in 2003 at the Istanbul-based First Army, shortly after the AKP came to power.
It is unknown whether the suspects made any move to activate the plan, first reported in January by the Taraf newspaper, which routinely targets the army.
The plot allegedly involved plans to bomb mosques and provoke tensions with Greece to force the downing of a Turkish jet, thus discrediting the government and leading to its downfall.
Taraf said the plan was discussed at a seminar in March 2003. The army responded the seminar involved the discussion of war-time contingency plans and denied a coup plot.
Army members are already among dozens of defendants in a long-running case against a purported secularist network that allegedly planned to spark unrest and pave the way for a military coup against the AKP.
But the probe's credibility waned as police began arresting journalists, writers and academics known as AKP critics, sparking accusations that it has degenerated into a campaign to silence the secularist opposition.
Turkey's chief prosecutor said last week he was examining whether the government exerts pressure on the judiciary, a move that may in theory result in a bid to seek AKP's closure at the constitutional court.
In 2008, the AKP narrowly escaped being banned for violating Turkey's secular system.