Turk army chief says forces under pressure

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ISTANBUL, Oct 1 (Reuters) Turkey's armed forces said today they faced ''systematic'' attack from enemies at home and abroad, but would not be deflected from their role in defending the centralised state and secular system of government.

General Yasar Buyukanit, head of the armed forces General Staff, also reaffirmed the military's stiff opposition to an independent Kurdish state in neighbouring northern Iraq as a risk to national security.

''The Turkish armed forces are the target of systematic and prejudiced attacks both internally and externally. There is a limit to our partial silence,'' he told military cadets in a televised ceremony at the Istanbul War Academy.

Buyukanit did not explicitly name the threats, but it was clear from his wider remarks that he was criticising both Kurdish separatists and Islamists opposed to Turkey's separation of state and religion.

The army, which ousted a government it deemed too Islamist just 10 years ago, is deeply unhappy about parliament's election in August of Abdullah Gul, who has an Islamist past and a wife who wears the Muslim headscarf, as Turkey's new president.

''No power can change the secular structure of Turkey, no power is strong enough to do this,'' Buyukanit said.

Gul and the ruling centre-right AK Party, in which he previously served as foreign minister, deny any Islamist agenda. In power, they have pursued reforms aimed at preparing Turkey for European Union membership.

The army initially tried to block Gul's election, a move that led Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to call a snap July parliamentary election which the AK Party decisively won.

That paved the way for parliament to select Gul as head of state in August.

Secularists now fear the AK Party government will try to boost the role of religion by overhauling Turkey's constitution, which dates back to a period of military rule in the 1980s.

Buyukanit said the army would only comment on the constitution when a final draft text had been unveiled.

On Iraq, Buyukanit also sounded an uncompromising note.

''The formation of an independent (Kurdish) state in northern Iraq would pose not only a political risk (for Turkey) but a security one too,'' he said.

Turkey fears a Kurdish state in Iraq would fan separatist sentiments among its own large ethnic Kurdish population in southeast Turkey.

Ankara has been battling separatist Kurdish guerrillas in the southeast since 1984 in a conflict that has cost more than 30,000 lives.


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