ANKARA, (Reuters) – A senior Turkish general called for calm on Wednesday after two prominent retired generals were detained in a widening police investigation into a suspected coup plot against the government.
“Turkey is passing through difficult days. We all have to be acting with more common sense, more carefully and more responsibly,” land forces commander General Ilker Basbug, who is the second most powerful official in the Turkish military, told reporters.
Police detained 21 people on Tuesday as part of a nationwide investigation into Ergenekon, a shadowy, ultra-nationalist and hardline secularist group suspected of planning bombings and assassinations calculated to trigger a military takeover.
The detentions of retired first army chief General Hursit Tolon and retired gendarmerie forces General Sener Eruygur inside military residences have sent shockwaves through Turkey, and Turkish newspapers said such moves were unheard of.
Other prominent figures detained included an editor of the staunchly secularist daily Cumhuriyet, politicians and the chairman of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce — all known critics of the ruling AK Party.
Turkish financial markets fell further on Wednesday on concerns over prolonged political tensions in Turkey. “I’m watching these events unfold with great concern given Turkey’s history of military interventions. There is clearly a fight between two power groups and no one is yet willing to back down,” said a senior EU diplomat, who declined to be named.
Turkey, while predominantly Muslim, has a secular constitution, and the military considers itself the ultimate guardian of the republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It remains at odds with the AK Party over the role of religion in public life, an issue which has polarised Turkey for decades.
The army has pushed four governments from office in the last 50 years.
The high-profile detentions come as the ruling AK Party fights for its survival in court. The chief prosecutor of the Court of Appeals is seeking the closure of the AK Party on charges of Islamist activities.
The AK Party, which won a sweeping re-election last year, denies the charges and says they are politically motivated.