Report: court indicts 196 in alleged Turkish coup plot

By Suzan Fraser, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010

Report: 196 indicted in alleged Turkish coup plot

ANKARA, Turkey — A court on Monday indicted 196 people, including four retired military commanders, of conspiring in 2003 to overthrow the Islamic-oriented government in an alleged plot that highlights tension between Turkey’s pious leadership and its secular opponents.

A 968-page indictment accuses the suspects of planning to create chaos and pave the way for a military takeover in an alleged conspiracy dubbed “Sledgehammer,” the Anatolia news agency and other media reported.

Some 30 serving or retired military officers were indicted, including Ret. Gen. Dogan Cetin, former commander of Turkey’s first army, former naval force commander Ozden Ornek, former air force commander Ibrahim Firtina and former army commander Ergin Saygun, Anatolia said.

They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of attempting to bring down the government and membership in an illegal organization, according to the Dogan news agency. Most were detained in February — but subsequently released — after a newspaper, Taraf, published allegedly leaked copies of documents detailing their plans.

No trial date has been set.

Taraf said the suspects allegedly planned to blow up at least two historic Istanbul mosques, Fatih and Bayazit, during Friday prayers, assassinate some Christian and Jewish leaders and shoot down a Turkish warplane and blame it on Greece — Turkey’s traditional rival.

Taraf claimed the conspirators hoped the chaos would lead to calls for a military takeover, and even planned to turn stadiums into open-air prisons capable of holding tens of thousands of people if they challenged the troops. The paper handed over the documents to prosecutors.

The military, which has overthrown four governments since 1960, has denied such a plot, insisting the documents were from a military training seminar during which officers simulated an internal strife scenario. Turkey’s military chief of staff, Gen. Ilter Basbug has complained of an “asymmetric psychological warfare” to tarnish the military’s image.

More than 400 people, including pro-secular academics, journalists and politicians and soldiers, are already on trial over separate charges of plotting to bring down the government. That group is suspected in attacks on a newspaper and a courthouse, and plots to kill Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Critics allege the cases are built on flimsy evidence and illegal wiretaps. They say the accusations are a government attempt to silence opponents who accuse Erdogan of trying to undermine Turkey’s secular Constitution, a charge that he denies.

The court cases reflect the growing confidence of civilian power in Turkey, whose politics were once dominated by the military.

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