Turkey clips military's wings

2012-09-23 22:04
(Supplied)

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Istanbul - The jailing of hundreds of Turkish army officers including top generals accused of plotting to topple Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan underscored how far he has come in gaining control of the country's once all-powerful military.

But Erdogan, 10 years in power, must grapple with suspicions among critics and even some sympathisers that he is using this and other coup investigations to silence opposition as he sets about taming a militant secularist establishment.

Far from flinching, he may seek more power in a revamped presidency.

The verdict against 325 officers at the end of the 21-month trial on Friday would have been unthinkable a decade ago, when generals regularly intervened in policy-making as self-appointed guardians of Turkish secularism.

Judges in the case, dubbed Sledgehammer, handed down prison sentences ranging from six to 20 years against the officers for plotting to wreck Erdogan's rule almost 10 years ago, soon after his Islamist-rooted party swept to power with the biggest share of the vote in decades.

Hilmi Ozkok, who was head of the armed forces at the time, rejected accusations that the court's decision was driven by revenge.

"The ruling will serve as a deterrent and has a lesson for everyone ... in understanding how much Turkey and the rest of the world has changed," Ozkok told Milliyet newspaper on Sunday.

Turks reading such words from the mouth of the former armed forces chief will gain a measure of the scale of change since Erdogan's AK party was first elected in 2002.

The generals then made no secret of their disdain for a man who had served a brief prison sentence for religious incitement and had backed a short-lived Islamist government they eased from power in 1997.

When AK was elected for a second term in 2007 with an even larger margin of victory, an emboldened Erdogan launched a series of investigations into officers, lawyers, politicians, journalists and others that exposed several alleged conspiracies against the government.

The plots consisted of plans to foment unrest and pave the way for an army takeover.

Sledgehammer, a war game scenario played out at a barracks in Istanbul in March 2003, included plans to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul and trigger conflict with Greece.

A new constitution is now under consideration to replace a restrictive code inherited from the military after a 1980 coup.

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