Friday, 6 January 2012

Former Head of Turkish Armed Forces in Court

Turkey's former army chief Ilker Basbug was arrested Friday over an alleged bid to topple the Islamist-rooted government in the latest confrontation likely to inflame tensions with the powerful military.

"The 26th chief of staff of the Turkish republic has unfortunately been placed in preventive detention for setting up and leading a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government," Ilkay Sezer, a lawyer for Basbug, was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

It is the first time in the history of the Turkish republic that a former chief of the Turkish military has been arrested as a suspect.

However, dozens of active and retired military officers, academics, journalists and lawyers have been detained in recent years in probes into alleged plots against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Basbug, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer caught up in a massive investigation into the so-called Ergenekon network, accused of plotting to topple Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

His arrest came hours after he testified as a suspect at an Istanbul court on Thursday as part of a probe into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit the government.

"The commander of such an army facing charges of forming and leading an armed organisation is really tragicomic," the 68-year-old general told prosecutors, Anatolia reported.

"I always followed the law and the constitution throughout my tenure."

"It is up to the esteemed nation to make a judgement" on his arrest, he was also quoted as saying by the private NTV television as he was leaving the Istanbul courthouse.

Basbug was sent to a prison at Istanbul's Silivri prison where other suspects of the alleged Ergenekon network are being detained. His lawyer said he would challenge the court's ruling.

The military, which considers itself as the guardian of secularism in modern-day Turkey, has carried out three coups -- in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

The move against Basbug appears to be a fresh warning to the NATO member state's military whose political influence has waned since Erdogan's AKP came to power in 2002.

Critics accuse Erdogan's government of launching a campaign to silence its opponents, charges it denies.

In 2009, Turkey's former army chief Hilmi Ozkok also testified to prosecutors in the Ergenekon probe but as a witness.

Among the allegations is an attempt by a group of army officers to establish websites to disseminate anti-government propoganda in order to destabilise the country.

"I reject this charge... I, as the chief of General Staff, am the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces which is one of the most powerful armies in the world," said Basbug in his testimony according to Anatolia.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said that the courts trying the Ergenekon suspects were not delivering justice.

"They are implementing the decisions made by the political authority," he was quoted as saying by Anatolia.

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