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Turkish flag with military emblem
In Turkey, the military and the government are at oddsImage: DW

Surprise move

July 30, 2011

Turkey's four most senior generals resigned their posts as tensions rise with the governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Meanwhile, President Abdullah Gul denied that Turkey faces a political crisis.


Turkish President Abdullah Gul denied over the weekend that his nation faced a political crisis after the top military commander resigned his post along with three other senior generals in a row over jailed military personnel.

"Everything is continuing on track, as you see there is no (power) vacuum," Gul told reporters before boarding a plane from Ankara to Istanbul. "In fact, there is no crisis."

"Undoubtedly events yesterday were an extraordinary situation in themselves, but everything is on course," he added.

Turkey's top commander, General Isik Kosaner, together with the heads of the navy, army and air force, announced Friday that they were stepping down, ahead of a key meeting that will address the promotion of dozens of detained military officers.

In a farewell message to what he called his "brothers in arms," Kosaner said it was "impossible" for him to continue as top commander, unable to defend the rights of the men who had been detained.

Some 250 military personnel are currently in jail, including 40 - almost a tenth - of Turkey's serving generals. Most of them are held on charges related to "Operation Sledgehammer," an alleged plot against Erdogan's government dating back to 2003.

The detentions have sapped morale and spread mistrust and suspicion among the officer corps, and many had been looking for Kosaner to take a stand since his appointment last August.

Deeper rift

Relations between the secularist military and Erdogan's socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first came to power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK's Muslim roots.

The move also gives rise to fears of a military coup, in a country that has seen four other uprisings - followed by periods of repression - in 1960, 1971 and 1980. But Erdogan has sought to chasten the military to advance Turkey's chances of joining the EU.

Turkish General Isik Kosaner
Kosaner's departure could prove advantageous for ErdoganImage: picture alliance/dpa

Erdogan's office issued a statement saying the armed forces would continue to do their duty in a "spirit of unity," making no mention of the reasons for the resignations.

It added that police chief and newly appointed head of Turkey's ground forces, General Necdet Özel, would take on the position of acting chief of general staff. Özel was hosted by Erdogan and Gul on Friday, prompting media speculation that the 61-year-old would be named as Kosaner's official replacement.

Though the sudden manner of the resignations is embarrassing, it could give Erdogan a decisive victory over the military, with the prime minister able to fill the top brass with officers more friendly to his party.

Erdogan said Monday's meeting of the Supreme Military Council, which meets twice-yearly to make key appointments, would go ahead as planned, showing a willingness to restore the chain of command and present an image of business as usual.

Author: Spencer Kimball, Gabriel Borrud (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Mark Rossman

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