Turkish PM, army chief meet over coup trial arrests

Turkey's armed forces chief of staff had consultations with PM Erdogan after meeting families of officers arrested hours earlier over coup plot.

Turkish PM, army chief meet over coup trial arrests

Turkey's armed forces chief of staff had consultations with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after meeting families of officers arrested hours earlier in connection with an alleged 2003 coup plot.

State-run television showed defence lawyers arriving at an Istanbul court on Sunday morning to challenge arrest warrants for 163 of the 196 retired and serving officers on trial over "Operation Sledgehammer" to oust Erdogan's government.

Most of the defendants have been in and out of detention since the case first broke wide open a year ago.

The trial, being held in the town of Silivri west of Istanbul, was adjourned on Friday until March 14 and will resume just three months before a national election that is expected to result in Erdogan's AK Party winning a third consecutive term.

Opinion polls point to outright victory for the AK, which has won praise for turning Turkey into one of the world's fastest growing economies.

Initially stunned by seeing so many officers put in custody, Turks have become less easily shocked during the course of the drawn out legal battle.

Not all the defendants were in court for Friday's hearing, and some have yet to be arrested, including retired General Cetin Dogan, former commander of the prestigious First Army.

Police formally arrested 133 officers in Silivri; 11 others were arrested later on Saturday at Istanbul's Besiktas court.

"Turkey is secular and will remain so!" chanted the wives of arrested officers in a protest that stopped traffic outside the Besiktas courthouse on Saturday evening.

Otherwise, remaining defendants subject to arrest warrants were expected to give themselves up, possibly on Monday.

Among those already jailed were former air force commander Ozden Ornek and former naval commander Ibrahim Firtina.

"Generals in jail"

Anatolian news agency reported that the meeting between Erdogan and military commander General Isik Kosaner took place at Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace on Saturday. It said the encounter was unscheduled and there were no details on the outcome of the discussion, which lasted around 45 minutes.

Kosaner had earlier met relatives of the arrested officers at a military officers' club in the city.

Regarded as a staunch secularist though he has made few public utterances, Kosaner took over command of NATO's second largest military force in August.

Whatever he says or does will be closely scrutinised by both the government and an officer corps whose morale was badly damaged by multiple investigations and arrests related to various conspiracies during the past few years.

A Turkish newspaper reported on Sunday that 29 serving generals out of a total 364 were currently jailed in the military's Hasdal prison in Istanbul.

Defendants deny any conspiracy and say "Sledgehammer" was simply a war game exercise presented at a military seminar.

Prosecutors allege that the plot involved plans to bomb historic mosques and provoke conflict with Greece, as part of a plan to undermine the government and enable a military coup.

By enacting democratic reforms aimed at making Turkey fit for membership of the European Union, the AK has undercut the military's influence. Few people believe today's generals would dare return to the coup-making ways of their predecessors.



Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Şubat 2011, 14:06