Turkey charges 86 with coup plot
July 15, 2008
By Vincent Boland in Ankara
Prosecutors in Turkey charged 86 people yesterday with plotting to overthrow the government, in a widening investigation into a shadowy far-right organisation with alleged links to retired military officers.
The investigation into Ergenekon is widely viewed as part of a long-running power struggle between the government, with its Islamic leanings, and the secular elite, including the military. It is also being linked to a judicial process against the government that could see the ruling AK party shut down and its leaders, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, banished from public life.
The coincidence of the two cases has unsettled the Istanbul financial markets and raised fears of prolonged instability.
Markets were relatively steady yesterday, but analysts said the uncertainty surrounding the two cases, and the bitterness of the debate surrounding them, were undermining sentiment in Turkish assets.
The indictments against the accused were handed down by Aykut Cengiz Engin, chief prosecutor of Istanbul. Among the charges levelled at them were "being members of an armed terrorist organisation", "attempting to overthrow the -Turkish government by force" and attacks on state institutions and their -representatives.
The 86 were not officially named. But they are known to include the head of a fringe political party, disaffected former army officers and adherents of an uncompromising interpretation of secularism, the key founding principle of this Muslim country. Mr Engin said a 2,455-page indictment would be placed before the Istanbul criminal court, which has two weeks to decide whether to hear the case.
Those charged do not include two senior retired generals detained along with 19 others on July 1 and also implicated in the plot. A separate indictment was being prepared against these men, Mr Engin said. It is virtually unprecedented for such senior generals to be detained in Turkey. So far the army has maintained a studied silence on the issue.
Defenders of the accused, including their lawyers, claim the Ergenekon investigation is an attempt to silence critics of the government.
Ergenekon has been -likened to the Gladio organisation that allegedly fomented internal subversion in Italy in the decades after the second world war. Those accused of being members have made no secret of their hatred for the AK party, which has its roots in political Islam but denies that it poses any threat to secularism.
Ergenekon's modus operandi was allegedly to cause such mayhem that the Turkish army, which sees itself as the ultimate defender of the secular republic, would intervene, overthrow the government and restore order. This is in effect what happened in the military coups of 1960 and 1980.
The most infamous crime in which Ergenekon has been implicated by Mr Engin is the 2006 murder of a judge of the council of state, Turkey's highest administrative court. The shooting was initially blamed on a young Islamist fundamentalist.
June 2007 Investigation into Ergenekon launched after explosives were found at house of former army officer in Istanbul. Up to June 2008Arrests of die-hard nationalists and secularists. July2008 Investigation ratchets up with the arrests of two senior retired generals as well as the boss of the Ankara chamber of commerce and a newspaper editor
Editorial Comment, Page 14