Turkish ex-generals arrested as rift widens with opponents

Two suspected of plotting to topple the Islamic-rooted government; top prosecutor lays out evidence against the ruling party.

Erdogan 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Erdogan 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Turkish police arrested two retired military generals suspected of plotting to topple the Islamic-rooted government and the top prosecutor laid out evidence against the ruling party as rifts in Turkish politics appeared to widen Tuesday. The country's senior prosecutor has brought a case against the Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing it of undermining the secular principles of the Turkish constitution. The party denies the claims that it is trying to impose religion on politics and society, and accuses its opponents of undermining democracy by plotting to overthrow the legitimately elected government. Dozens of people, including retired military officers, have previously been detained during the investigation against an alleged network of extreme nationalists called "Ergenekon." But former generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur, who were detained Tuesday, were the highest-ranking ex-soldiers to be arrested so far, private CNN-Turk television said. Eruygur was a major organizer in anti-government rallies last year, when hundreds of thousands protested what they considered government attempts to undermine secularism. Others detained Tuesday included the head of the chamber of trade in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and a journalist known to be a fierce critic of the government, CNN-Turk said. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a total of 20 people were arrested and police were looking for four others. He denied that the police operation was politically motivated or designed to silence government critics, even though it came just before top prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya discussed his case against Erdogan's party. "I think this was a step toward completion of the indictment. It's a step taken upon a decision by prosecutors," Erdogan said. The Justice and Development Party holds a comfortable majority in the Parliament, winning its second mandate last year after a months-long confrontation with the secularist opposition backed by the judiciary and the military. In March, prosecutor Yalcinkaya asked the Constitutional Court to shut down the party and bar 71 people from politics for five years, including Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul. Erdogan and other party members have denied they have an Islamic agenda, citing reforms designed for entry into the European Union as proof. But Yalcinkaya reaffirmed his position on Tuesday that the ruling party is trying to corrode the secularist principles enshrined in the Constitution, Anatolia news agency reported. He appeared before the top court in a private session, arguing that there was a "clear and present" danger that the ruling party was seeking to impose Islamic law on Turkey. Turkish police launched simultaneous raids in at least three provinces hours before Yalcinkaya appeared in court, private Dogan news agency said. "It may not be a coincidence. Every time there is a development concerning the closure case, there is often a development concerning the Ergenekon case," said Volkan Aytar, an analyst with an Istanbul-based research center, TESEV. In January, a court charged eight people with trying to provoke an armed rebellion against the government. News reports said they were members of "Ergenekon" and were accused of plotting a series of bomb attacks and assassinations. The Ergenekon hit list reportedly included Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, who has angered nationalists with his comments about the World War I-era killing of ethnic Armenians, and Kurdish leaders - seen by many Turks as a threat to national sovereignty.