Eight Turkish officers arrested in 1997 coup probe

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 21, 2012 7:16 AM
Eight Turkish officers arrested in 1997 coup probe

By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Eight active and former Turkish army officers were jailed pending trial in connection with the forced resignation of an Islamist-led government in 1997, in the latest inquiry into army interference in politics, news channels reported on Saturday.

Retired major-general Erol Ozkasnak, four active officers and three retired officers were formally arrested overnight pending trial for allegedly "obstructing a government from carrying out its duties," NTV said on its website.

Four ex-generals and dozens of officers were arrested in the probe last weekend.

Prosecutors have charged hundreds of officers suspected of plotting against current and former governments in a series of trials that has Turkey, a Muslim, secular democracy, examining a past littered with military interventions.

Those have included three outright coup d'etats and subtler interference from the military, which had appointed itself the guardians of secularism.

Ozkasnak was third in command at the General Staff during the events surrounding February 28, 1997.

That's the date of a National Security Council meeting at which the military leadership forced Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, to quit over policies it perceived were undermining the secular constitution.

Erbakan's Welfare Party was subsequently outlawed.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, a conservative grouping founded in part by members of the banned Welfare Party, has sought to curb the military's political influence since it swept to power in 2002.

The government's critics, including the main opposition Republican People Party, has accused Erdogan of carrying out a campaign of revenge against opponents, which he denies.

Former Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug is the highest-ranking officer to go on trial on terrorism charges for allegedly trying to undermine Erdogan's rule in 2003.

Turkey's secularist military staged three outright coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. Generals pressured Erbakan to quit without taking power or suspending the constitution in what was nicknamed a "post-modern coup."

The trial of former president Kenan Evren, 94, who siezed power after a 1980 coup, began this month. He is not in prison during his trial.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)