Turkey arrests former military leaders over 1997 coup
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish prosecutors ordered the arrest on Thursday of four ex-generals and dozens of officers on charges of plotting the 1997 overthrow of the government of Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamist leader who paved the way for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
The arrest warrants are the latest in a series of direct challenges to Turkey's military, who for decades considered it their right to interfere in political affairs, and who toppled four governments they felt threatened Turkey's secular order.
The former officers face charges of plotting to remove an elected government and preventing it from fulfilling its duties, Turkish media reported.
Erbakan, who died of heart failure aged 85 in March last year, pioneered Islamist politics in Muslim but strictly secular Turkey and paved the way for the subsequent success of Prime Minister Erdogan's ruling conservative AK Party.
The sight of police seizing white-haired former generals and escorting them into detention, unthinkable a decade ago, has become a familiar one in Turkey over the last years.
Hundreds of military officers, including top serving and retired commanders, are now facing trials accused of involvement in the alleged "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" coup conspiracies against Erdogan and his ruling party.
This month the landmark trial began of former General Kenan Evren, now 94, who led a coup in 1980 that led to the execution of 50 people, the torture of thousands, and disappearance of hundreds more in three years of military rule.
The generals, known widely by their Ottoman title of "Pasha", traditionally saw themselves as the guardians of the secular republic set up by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.
They mounted a coup in 1960, which led to the hanging of the prime minister and two other ministers, and then two more coups in 1971 and 1980. Each time the army restored a revised form of democracy.
The tussle for supremacy between elected politicians and the armed forces is nothing new in Turkey, but for the first time politicians now have the upper hand.
In 2007, Erdogan simply ignored a statement from the military which said parliament should not select Abdullah Gul as president. The power of the generals was broken.
Some secularists now see Erdogan's moves to cut back the power of the military, reform the judiciary and rewrite the constitution as a move to establish an Islamic order. Erdogan, first elected to power in 2002, denies such ambitions.
Erbakan became the first Islamist prime minister in Turkey's modern history in 1996, at the helm of a coalition government after his party won elections in 1995.
But the country's military were outraged at what they saw as his attempts to undermine the country's secular order and forge alliances in the Muslim world. They forced him to resign in what has been branded the "post-modern" coup.
Business figures, the judiciary and fellow politicians also exerted pressure on Erbakan. A year later the country's top court banned his Welfare Party for anti-constitutional activities and banned him and other party members from politics for five years.
That ban opened the way for Erdogan to rise to the fore of a new, more disciplined party that eschewed much of Welfare's more radical rhetoric.
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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