49 Turkish military officers arrested over suspected coup plot

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Ankara (Turkey), Feb.23 (ANI): Forty-nine senior military officers of the Turkey have been detained for questioning over accusations of plotting to topple the country's Islamist-rooted government through a violent coup.

The Guardian reports that a former deputy chief of the army, a retired air force chief, the chief of the navy and several generals and admirals are among those detained by police in a sweep carried out in eight Turkish cities.

The Hurriyet reported on its website that 17 retired generals, four serving admirals and 27 lower-ranking officers were among those detained.

The detentions represent the boldest assault yet on the military's elevated status by prosecutors, who have been investigating alleged conspiracies by secularists to unseat the AKP for more than two years.

The army, which has dispatched four governments in the past 50 years, was once considered all but untouchable in its role as custodian of Turkey's secular state.

Several high-ranking officers, including retired generals, are already being tried on accusations of belonging to a movement known as Ergenekon, which is said to have plotted a military coup by stoking civil unrest.

Journalists, academics, lawyers and politicians are also accused of being part of Ergenekon, which the government has depicted as a cabal of secular elitists determined to maintain their privileges.

Although there was no official explanation, the latest arrests appeared to stem from a separate alleged coup plot, known as Sledgehammer, revealed by a Turkish newspaper, Taraf, last month.

According to testimony in 5,000 pages of stolen army documents, the plan - dating from 2003 - envisaged a putsch against the AKP after a campaign of destabilisation involving bombing mosques and provoking a war with Greece.

The army has denied the documents represented a coup plot and instead described them as a "scenario".

On a visit to Spain Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refused to comment on the latest developments, saying: "It would not be appropriate for me to talk about an issue that is already handled by the judiciary."

The arrests follow a row over the detention last week of the chief prosecutor of the north-eastern province of Erzincan, Ilhan Cilhaner, on charges of belonging to Ergenekon after he had ordered an investigation of an Islamist group. (ANI)

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