Turkey jails former military chief | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.01.2012
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Turkey jails former military chief

The former head of Turkey's armed forces has been jailed on suspicion of plotting against the government in Ankara. The retired general, Ilker Basbug, is accused of complicity in a failed coup from 2003.

Ilker Basbug

Basbug said the conspiracy allegations hurt his pride

General Ilker Basbug was arrested and jailed on Friday near Istanbul, charged with trying to overthrow Turkey's government. As Turkey's former military chief - he retired in August 2010 - Basbug is the highest-ranking officer to become embroiled in the so-called Ergenekon case, a long-running crackdown on alleged dissidents within the country's military and secular establishment.

Prosecutors allege that the hardline nationalist Ergenekon network sought to topple Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist government in 2003. This alleged coup plan, called "Sledgehammer," is one of many allegations linked to the group. In total, some 400 people face charges.

Basbug is also likely to be charged with using military funds to prop up websites seeking to discredit the Turkish government.

Other suspects have said they acted in a chain of command, prompting prosecutors to look to Basbug at the very top.

The retired general and his lawyer have stated their intention to fight the case, denying all charges.

"The Republic of Turkey's 26th general chief of staff has been remanded in custody for forming and directing a terrorist group. I leave it to the great Turkish nation to judge," Basbug told reporters before being taken to the specially-built Silivri prison, where hundreds of the Ergenekon suspects are being held and tried.

US demands transparency

On Friday US officals said they were monitoring developments in the "high-profile case" to ensure the fair treatment of the former army chief.

Split image: Reccep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Ilker Basbug

Secular Basbug often clashed with Turkey's Islamist premier

"We have urged the Turkish government to ensure that the investigations, any prosecutions in... these cases proceed in a transparent manner, that all the defendants be assured due process in accordance with international standards," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Prosecutors say the Ergenekon group was behind several conspiracies against Erdogan's ruling AK party government - spiraling investigations into the group, which started in 2007, have led to the arrests of military leaders, journalists, academics and lawyers.

Hours before Basbug was jailed, some prominent Turkish journalists in the Ergenekon case described their imprisonment as "a massacre of justice." Critics of the investigation say that the arrests have focused on opponents of the AK party.

Waning secular power

Turkey's military has long considered itself guarantor of the country's secular constitution, staging three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forcing an Islamist prime minister to quit in 1997.

Relations between the military and the AK party have always been testy but Erdogan has taken an increasingly tough line in the past two-and-a-half years, not least because of the Ergenekon case.

This latest arrest marked the first time in Turkish history that a former military chief has been jailed.

"To hear such an allegation hurts my pride as a general who has done his duty to the country and state with honor. Accusing a chief of staff of forming a terrorist group is the biggest punishment I could be given," Basbug was quoted as saying by Turkish television channel NTV.

Basbug's lawyer, Ilkay Sezer, also said that his client intended to challenge the decision to remand him in custody pending state trial.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Mark Hallam (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Andrew Bowen

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