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In Turkey, Officers Held In 1997 Coup 13 avril 2012

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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The New York Times (USA) Friday, April 13, 2012, p. A7

By Sebnem Arsu, Istanbul

A former general and 30 other officers were detained Thursday for their roles in a 1997 coup, continuing the clash between the government and the nation’s once-indomitable military.

Long considered the untouchable guardian of a staunchly secular state, the Turkish military has lost its immunity since the pro-Islamic government took power and paved the way for a series of cases against current and retired officers.

Hundreds of people — from the former head of the army and other officers to academics and journalists — have been arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the current government through an ultranationalist network known as Ergenekon.

Many critics of the arrests have called it a pretext for a clampdown against government opponents, pointing out that actual coups remained unpunished while a broad spectrum of suspects in an alleged plot were being rounded up.

Scores have been held, but none of them has been convicted.

Now, some of the previous coups are coming under fire.

Cevik Bir, the founding officer of an army unit established to head off Islamic challenges to the secular state, was taken into custody in Istanbul on Thursday.

He and the other officers are being investigated for their roles in forcing the coalition government led by the Islamic Welfare Party to step down in 1997.

It was the fourth — and most recent — military intervention into politics in Turkey.

The simple threat of military action issued at a national security council meeting was enough for Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the Welfare Party’s leader, to quit the government.

The intervention is often remembered by Mr. Bir’s words as he told reporters, « We gave democracy a balance check » after the withdrawal of the Welfare Party.

The action eventually led to the banning of the Welfare Party, of which the nation’s current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the current president, Abdullah Gul, were junior members. The ban led to the emergence of the Justice and Development Party, which Mr. Erdogan leads. It is now the nation’s governing party.

Enforcement operations in five cities continued late on Thursday, and the suspects, including three former brigadier generals, Erol Ozkasnak, Abdullah Kilicarslan and Idris Koralp, were likely to be charged with staging a coup to overthrow the civilian government, punishable by life imprisonment, according to news reports.

Turkish government officials welcomed the investigation as a step toward a more democratic country.

« Turkey had to confront incidents in its near past that interrupted its democracy in certain periods, » said Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, according to the semiofficial Anatolian Agency.

Last week, Kenan Evren, the 94-year-old former head of the army, and Tahsin Sahinkaya, 86, former commander of the air force, were put on trial on charges of staging a coup in 1980. It is often described as the most violent of the three other military interventions, including those in 1960 and 1971.

The current military regulations still give the army the right to interfere in politics when the « Republic is under threat, » which the government wants to eliminate once a fully democratic constitution is drafted this year.


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