ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's Third Army chief of staff Major General Berkay Turgut was detained on Tuesday amid police raids targeting 10 serving and retired generals in a widening investigation of the 1997 toppling of the country's first Islamist led government.
The police operation, the fourth of its kind within a month, piled fresh pressure on Turkey's beleaguered officer corps -- the target of a series of investigations launched in recent years into past military interventions and coup plots.
Police armed with arrest warrants for a total 17 people, all but one of them officers, carried out raids in nine provinces early on Tuesday as part of a probe launched by prosecutors in the capital Ankara. Before Tuesday's raids there were already 39 people being held in custody as part of the investigation.
The prosecutor's office issued a written statement on Tuesday saying police had arrest warrants for five major generals, three lieutenant generals and three brigadier generals.
Police arrested Turgut after searching his office and residence at military housing in the eastern Turkish province of Erzincan where the Third Army is based, media reports said. He was then taken by plane to the capital Ankara.
Among the suspects already held in pre-trial detention is the chairman of Turkey's army pension fund, retired lieutenant-general Yildirim Turker, who was, according to media reports, reportedly part of the Western Study Group, suspected of being behind moves to make prime minister Necmettin Erbakan quit 15 years ago.
POST MODERN COUP
Commentators dubbed the episode Turkey's "post-modern coup" as the generals used pressure behind the scenes rather than direct intervention employed in three coups between 1960-1980.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who belonged to Erbakan's party, has enacted reforms sharply curbing the military's power during his ruling AK Party's decade in government.
After Erdogan won a third term in power last year the prosecutors intensified their pursuit of old coup-makers and suspected anti-government conspirators of a more recent vintage.
The top brass of NATO's second largest army had long seen themselves as guardians of the secular ideals of soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the republic in 1923 out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
The investigations range from army takeovers dating back as far as 1980, to suspected plots against Erdogan's government.
Twelve of the officers facing arrest on Tuesday were retired and six in active service, broadcasters CNN Turk and NTV said. A retired major general was detained in Izmir, while a serving general's home was searched in eastern Erzincan province.
Commenting on the investigation, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc called for an indictment on the events of 1997 to be prepared as soon as possible.
"This is an important issue. If there are to be more detentions, I think the investigation must be completed rapidly," he told state broadcaster TRT Haber.
Erbakan died of heart failure aged 85 in March last year. He pioneered Islamist politics in Muslim but strictly secular Turkey and paved the way for the success of Erdogan's AKP.
Top retired General Cevik Bir was among those detained in the first wave of arrests on April 12.
Hundreds of military officers, including top serving and retired commanders, are already on trial accused of involvement in the alleged "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" coup conspiracies.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)