ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s leaders met with the country’s military chief on Thursday to discuss the government’s unprecedented crackdown on high-ranking officers accused of plotting to topple the country’s Islamic-rooted government.
The rare three-way meeting by President Abdullah Gul; Gen. Ilker Basbug, the military chief; and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace apparently was called to discuss tensions caused by the crackdown.
As they met, a Turkish court formally charged eight more military officers of plotting to topple the government, increasing the number of officers who have been charged and jailed to 20, including five admirals and three generals.
Police also escorted several other officers, including former chiefs of the navy and air force and the ex-deputy chief of the military, to the court house for questioning on Thursday.
The showdown between Turkey’s governing Islamic political movement and the country’s fiercely secular military officers has worried businesses and investors, shaking the markets amid calls from opposition parties for early elections to end the turmoil.
Wiretap evidence and the discovery of alleged plans for a military coup drafted in 2003, a year after the current government was elected, led to the detention of about 50 military commanders by police on Monday. The court must decide whether to formally charge, arrest and jail them.
Some are accused of plotting to blow up mosques and kill some non-Muslim figures to foment chaos and trigger a military takeover.
The purported recordings of the plotters were posted on several leading Web sites.
In one, a top officer accuses the political leadership of trying to “tear down the country and carry it into another (Islamic) regime.” He vows: “I will unleash (my forces) over Istanbul. … It is our duty to act without mercy.” In another, one officer says: “The measures must be radical to quickly finish the job in order to protect the image of the Armed Forces since the religion issue is an extremely sensitive one.”
The Turkish military, for years the final judge of whether civilian governments were up to snuff, is on the defensive.
The Islamic-leaning government appears to be waging a dogged campaign to curb military sway over the country’s political life.
Economy Minister Ali Babacan attempted to ease concerns, saying the government was trying to put the military under civilian rule as in the West.
“Transformations may sometimes be painful,” Babacan said Wednesday. “We are trying to make Turkey’s democracy first class.”
Four times since 1960, the military, which views itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular tradition, has overthrown civilian governments. But observers say this government’s success in reining in inflation, coupled with its reformist record as it works to join the European Union, appear to have given it the courage to confront the military.
Turkey’s top court warned Wednesday that no one was immune from prosecution if they violate the law.
“Whoever uses the state power, they should know that they will be held accountable if they step out of the law,” Hasim Kilic, head of the Constitutional Court said. “This power cannot be used as a tool to put society in order.”