ANKARA, (Reuters) – Documents seized by Turkish police indicate that a shadowy, ultra-nationalist illegal organisation planned to trigger a coup to unseat the Turkish government, newspapers reported on Thursday.
The documents detailed a four-point plan, including launching illegal protests on July 7 across 40 provinces, sparking clashes with security forces and publishing fake documents showing a worsening economy, said the newspaper Sabah, which has close ties to the government.
Police detained 21 people on Tuesday, including two retired senior generals, journalists and politicians, for links to a group known as Ergenekon suspected of trying to engineer a military takeover. All were critics of the government. They have not yet been charged, but Istanbul’s chief prosecutor’s office has prepared an indictment against more than 40 other people arrested over the past 12 months as part of the same probe.
“Ergenekon may be a criminal organisation, and so should be prosecuted, but with its sloppy organisation and old men in charge it remains highly doubtful this was anything very serious,” said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based expert on Turkish security issues.
The documents, also published in Yeni Safak, come as the governing AK Party defended itself in court against charges of trying to establish an Islamic state. The party could be closed down, a move that might lead to an early parliamentary election. “We will try to finish (our oral defence) today,” AK Party deputy group chairman Bekir Bozdag told reporters outside the Constitutional Court.
The chief prosecutor of the Court of Appeals also wants 71 leading political figures, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, banned from party membership for five years.
Turkish assets fell on Thursday as the two events unnerved investors, who fear prolonged political tensions in the European Union-applicant country.
Turkey has had four military coups in the last 50 years.
Turkey’s second most powerful commander called for calm on Wednesday and the AK Party said everyone must let the judiciary do its job. “There is a suspicion in society that it is turning out to be a political revenge process rather than a legal process,” said Turkey’s main opposition leader Deniz Baykal.
Turkey has long been divided along ideological and religious lines, stemming back to the foundation of modern Turkey on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. The republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk removed religion from public life and redirected Turkey towards the West.
The secularist elite, including army generals, judges and professors, now accuse the AK Party of seeking to weaken the strict separation of state and religion.
The ruling party, a pro-business, reform-driven party with roots in political Islam, denies the charges and points to its record in office as proof.
Political analysts say Ergenekon may be part of the shadowy “deep state”, code name for hardline nationalists in Turkey’s security forces and state bureaucracy who are ready to take the law into their own hands for the sake of their own agenda.
Many of the people detained in the Ergenekon investigation are members of the Ataturk Thought Association (ADD), a hardline group promoting the principles of the republic’s founder.
ADD helped push millions of secularist Turks onto the streets to protest against the election of Abdullah Gul as president last year, sparking an early parliamentary election.
The AK Party is the most popular party in Turkey, according to opinion polls. It won a landslide re-election last July despite efforts by secularists to portray the party as Islamist.
Political analysts say the likelihood of the AK Party being closed down has increased since the Constitutional Court last month overturned a government-led move to allow students to wear the Islamic headscarf at university.
The case reflects a power struggle between two rival elites as much as a decades-old differences in opinion over whether restrictions on practising Islam should be eased.