Key suspect faces grilling over alleged 2003 coup plot
The key suspect in an alleged 2003 plot to topple Turkey's Islamist-rooted government, a retired general, faced questioning from prosecutors on Friday as police arrested 18 other officers in connection with the suspected coup.
AFP - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Friday that no one was above the law as 18 more soldiers were detained in a widening probe into an alleged 2003 military coup plot.
"Those who make plans behind closed doors to crush the people's will must see that from now on they will face justice," Erdogan said in Ankara. "No one is above the law, no one has impunity."
His comments came hours after the number of people charged with involvement in the purported plot to foment unrest and justify a military takeover against his Islamist-rooted government rose to 31.
Eighteen more soldiers, one of them retired, were rounded up Friday in 13 provinces in a second wave of arrests in the investigation and were being brought to Istanbul for questioning, the NTV news channel said.
The massive investigation has rattled the country, raising fears of a showdown between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- the off-shoot of a banned Islamist movement -- and the army, the self-declared guardian of the secular system.
Erdogan dismissed accusations that his party was trying to discredit the army to obtain a free hand in realising a secret Islamist agenda, hailing the probe as a sign of improving democracy.
"What is happening today is normalisation... These are the footsteps of an advanced democracy," he said.
The Turkish army has ousted four governments since 1960 and wielded significant influence on politics, but has seen its clout wane under reforms carried out by the AKP government.
Erdogan met the army chief and the president in crisis talks Thursday that ended with a pledge to resolve tensions "within the constitutional order".
In Istanbul, prosecutors grilled retired four-star general Cetin Dogan, who allegedly spearheaded the coup plot, for four hours, Anatolia news agency said.
He is expected to appear before a judge later Friday, along with several other suspects.
Earlier, a court jailed 11 people pending trial, bringing the total number of those charged to 31, including both serving and retired soldiers.
The three most senior figures questioned so far -- ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek, former air force commander Ibrahim Firtina and the former number two of the general staff, Ergin Saygun -- were released late Thursday.
However, the prosecutor in charge said the investigation was continuing, raising the possibility that the trio may still face trial.
Detailed charges against the suspects will become clear once the prosecution draws up its indictment.
The alleged coup plot is said to have been drafted in 2003 within the Istanbul-based First Army, shortly after the AKP came to power.
The First Army was at the time headed by Dogan, who was also a key figure in a 1997 army campaign that forced Turkey's first Islamist prime minister and Erdogan's mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, to resign.
It is unknown whether the suspects made any move to activate the plan, codenamed "Operation Sledgehammer", 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 in a seminar in March 2003, chaired by Dogan.
Denying any plot, Dogan has said the documents discussed in the seminar were doctored to include plans to bomb mosques and for the downing of a Turkish jet.
Amid allegations that army members made a series of plans to discredit and topple the AKP, government supporters say the army must be forced to toe the line and stop meddling in politics.
Opponents however charge the AKP is seeking to disable the army and realise its alleged Islamist ambitions under the guise of democratisation.