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Turkey retires army 'coup plotters'

Fifty-five senior Turkish army officials facing coup charges have been retired. Some analysts claim it could affect Turkey's military readiness at a time when the Syrian conflict on its border threatens to spill over.

The Turkish military on Saturday ordered the retirement of dozens of generals and admirals currently in prison and facing charges of plotting a coup, the army reported on its website.

The decision was made at the end of a four-day meeting of the Turkey's Supreme Military Council to decide promotions and dismissals in the military.

A decision was reached to retire 55 senior military figures in total, and it was made public following formal approval by Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The list of retirees included all 40 commanders currently in detention for their alleged role in the "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" plots. The "Sledgehammer" plot refers to a plan that military figures allegedly hatched to create chaos in Turkey by bombing mosques in Istanbul and triggering a clash with neighbor Greece. They would have allegedly then taken advantage of the ensuing domestic turmoil by staging a coup.

Overall, several hundred suspects - including the senior military staff - are being separately tried for their part in such alleged plots.

Reining in the army?

The trials have been widely interpreted as part of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's objective to curtail the military's hold over Turkish politics. Erdogan has passed a series of laws since coming to office in 2002 to blunt the military's power in accordance with European Union standards. His government has also appointed individuals to the judiciary to try generals who have previously been considered "untouchable."

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

Prime Minister Erdogan seems to be on a quest to rein in Turkey's powerful army

The Turkish military has historically exercised considerable influence over the country's political trajectory. It overthrew three earlier governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980. And in 1997, it pressured Necmettin Erbakan - the prime minister at the time - to leave his post.

Analysts have expressed concern at the development, raising questions about Turkey's defense preparedness as conflict rages in Syria, its neighbor. Turkey has deployed troops on the border with Syria. Erdogan previously warned that Turkey could intervene in Syria if it rules that the country constitutes a threat to Ankara.

sej/slk (Reuters, AFP)