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Ankara Arrests Ex-army Chief for Terrorism

Published: 06/01/2012 02:09:44 PM GMT
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ISTANBUL - Former Turkish armed forces chief General Ilker Basbug has spent his first night behind bars after being arrested for terrorism plot in a ne (more)

ISTANBUL - Former Turkish armed forces chief General Ilker Basbug has spent his first night behind bars after being arrested for terrorism plot in a new sign of declining influence of Turkey's once untouchable generals.

“The fact that prosecutors are now touching senior generals is a turning point in the democratization process of Turkey,” military affairs analyst Lale Kemal told Reuters on Friday, January 6.

“Many were skeptical that prosecutors would go this far.”

Basbug, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be caught up in the so-called Ergenekon case, a long-running crackdown on EU candidate Turkey's once all-powerful military and secularist establishment.  

The former general was taken from an Istanbul courthouse in the early hours of Friday for a health check before being transported in a police convoy to Silivri prison where hundreds of defendants in the Ergenekon case are being tried in a specially-built courtroom.

“The Republic of Turkey's 26th general chief of staff has been remanded in custody for forming and directing a terrorist group,” Basbug said as he was lead from the courtroom.

“I leave it to the great Turkish nation to judge.”

Ergenekon is accused by prosecutors of being behind multiple conspiracies against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party government.

Investigations into Ergenekon have spiraled since they first opened in 2007 when more than 200 people, including military officers, lawyers and politicians, have been arrested in the case since it came to light two and a half years ago.

Basbug is facing charges of “gang leadership” and seeking to unseat the government by force.

After seven hours of questioning by prosecutors, he rejected the charges and described them as “tragicomic,” broadcaster NTV reported.

“To hear such an allegation hurts my pride as a general who has done his duty to the country and state with honor,” he was quoted as saying.

“Accusing a chief of general staff of forming a terrorist group is the biggest punishment I could be given.”

Basbug's lawyer said he would challenge the decision to jail him pending trial, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.

Expected Resignations

The arrest of a retired highly-decorated army general was expected to spark a new wave of military officers' resignations.

“I would not be surprised if we see some commanders resign (if Basbug is remanded in custody) but I do not expect this to bring serious instability to Turkey,” Kemal, the military affairs analyst, said.

Turkish media reports this week suggested senior commanders could resign if Basbug was charged in the case.

The General Staff subsequently issued a statement denying those reports but speculation about possible resignations continued.

“There is every possibility there will be resignations if cases continue to be brought like this,” said security analyst Gareth Jenkins.

“Morale is already at rock bottom. It is already affecting operational capability,” he said.

Last July, Basbug's successor and the heads of the army, navy and air force resigned in protest at the detention of more than 200 officers charged in a separate alleged conspiracy against the government.

The arrests were linked to investigation into an alleged 2003 plot to discredit the ruling Justice and Development Party government.

The plot, codenamed “Sledgehammer”, involved planting bombs in mosques and museums in Istanbul to stir chaos, according to documents obtained by Taraf newspaper.

For decades, the army has been Turkey's dominant political force, seen as the ultimate protector of the country's secular system.

Since 1960, the army has toppled four governments on claims of defending the country's secularism.

Reproduced with permission from