ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s prime minister vowed Friday to put everyone who conspired against the country’s democracy on trial, as the number of military officers charged and jailed for allegedly plotting a 2003 coup against his Islamic-based government rose to 31.
That figure, which included seven admirals and four generals, represents the largest-ever crackdown on Turkey’s military, which has ousted four civilian governments since 1960.
The military has wielded strong influence on politics for decades but has seen its powers dramatically curtailed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which took steps to put the military under civilian rule.
“An impaired democracy is not the fate of this country,” Erdogan told lawmakers at a televised meeting Friday. “No one is above the law, no one is untouchable, no one is privileged.”
The probe has fueled tensions between the government and the fiercely secular military and shaken the markets, but Erdogan has dismissed calls for early elections by opposition parties.
“The process underway is painstaking, but it is for the benefit of the people, today’s developments are setting free the consciousness of the people,” Erdogan said.
“Those conspiring behind closed doors to trample on the nation’s will from now on will find themselves facing justice.” Erdogan added: “They should know that they won’t get away with it.”
Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug held a rare meeting Thursday, later issuing a joint statement seeking to ease tensions.
“The public must be assured that matters will be handled in line with the law and everyone should act responsibly not to damage institutions,” the statement said.
The 11 most recently charged officers included two active-duty admirals and one retired general. The court’s decision to jail them came after prosecutors late Thursday released the former chiefs of the navy and air force and another top general without immediately charging them, saying they were unlikely to flee.
On Friday morning, police escorted more officers to the court for questioning, including Gen. Cetin Dogan, the former chief of the 1st Army based in Istanbul and Gen. Engin Alan, former head of the Special Forces. Police had rounded up about 50 officers early this week.
All suspects have reportedly denied the allegations, which include plotting to blow up mosques and kill some non-Muslim figures to foment chaos and trigger a military takeover.
Wiretap evidence and the discovery of alleged plans for a military coup prompted this week’s detentions. The recordings published on leading Web sites were allegedly conversations between ranking commanders at a military unit under Dogan’s command in Istanbul.
Alan is best known for supervising the transfer of imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan from Kenya to Turkey after his capture there in 1999. He is a highly respected commander within the military for his role in the fight against autonomy-seeking Kurdish guerrillas.
Opposition leaders claim the coup probe is tinged by politics, a charge the government rejects.
It is widely believed that Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, then head of the military, did not back his subordinates. He has not been implicated in the alleged plot.