Turkey president, ex-army chief discuss coup case

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s president met with the former head of the armed forces on Thursday amid efforts to ease political tensions over an alleged military coup plot.

Turkey was rocked last week by the arrests of two senior retired generals, leading businessmen and journalists — all critical of the Islamist-rooted ruling party — on suspicion of seeking to overthrow the government.

Financial markets fell on the news, fearing that it would further exacerbate political tensions in Turkey.

President Abdullah Gul discussed with General Hilmi Ozkok, the former military chief of the general staff, an alleged plot to overthrow the AK Party government during his time in office, the state-run Anatolian news agency reported.

Turkish opposition leaders last week asked Gul — whose appointment was opposed by the secular establishment — to step in to ease the rising tensions.

“The president must have wanted a bit more detailed information on this because he invited me,” Ozkok told reporters after more than two hours at the presidential palace.

“(The talks) were more regarding my proposals which appeared in a newspaper,” he said, referring to an interview in which he called for a trustworthy figure without political ambitions to step in to ease political tensions in Turkey.

Turkey’s secular establishment, which includes the military and judiciary, suspects the ruling AK Party of seeking to turn the country into an Islamic state, something the party denies.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court is expect to rule within three weeks on whether to ban the party.

Asked if there was a plan to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Ozkok told the Milliyet daily: “I will not say if there was or if there wasn’t.”

UNPRECEDENTED ARRESTS

In the last 50 years, military coups have unseated four elected governments in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country seeking to join the European Union.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor is investigating a shadowy ultra-nationalist group, Ergenekon, on suspicion that it sought to stage a coup.

Turkish prosecutors are expected to file an indictment against it by this weekend, although the charges are not expected to include those arrested last week. A separate indictment will be made for them.

Sener Eruygur, once head of the paramilitary gendarmerie, and Hursit Tolon, the former first army commander, have been arrested on suspicion of leading a terrorist group aiming to overthrow the government.

Such arrests of high-level army officials are unprecedented in Turkey where the armed forces are traditionally viewed as being above reproach. Ozkok had headed the armed forces between 2002 and 2006, when he was succeeded by General Yasar Buyukanit.

The military — which has repeatedly criticized the government and considers itself the guardian of Turkey’s secular system — has denied any links to the Ergenekon group.

The 2,500-page indictment is expected to name 85 defendants, of which 48 are in custody. Those defendants include the leader of a small nationalist party, the editor of a nationalist newspaper and retired army officers.

An additional indictment will be prepared for the two former generals, a prominent business leader and seven other suspects who were detained in a police swoop last week.

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