ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Police detained the chairman of Turkey’s army pension fund, a powerful military-run industrial conglomerate, on Wednesday in an investigation of a military intervention that drove the country’s first Islamist-led government from power in 1997.
A police sweep, which also brought the arrest of a senior retired general, brought to around 50 the number detained in the latest of a series of judicial probes calling generals to account for a history of military takeovers as well as alleged coup attempts.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which itself has Islamist roots, has severely curbed the political influence of NATO’s second biggest army since it first came to power a decade ago.
State and private media said police raided addresses in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as well as Kars on the eastern border, targeting serving and retired officers. A police spokesman said he did not have information on the raids.
The Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement they had issued arrest warrants for seven serving officers and six retired officers for seeking to overthrow the government and search warrants for 12 addresses.
Among the first to be detained was retired general Fevzi Turkeri, former head of the gendarmerie paramilitary force, broadcaster NTV said. Police searched his home before detaining him.
Media reports said police subsequently detained Yildirim Turker, the chairman of the army pension fund Oyak, an industrial group with interests ranging from steel to cement and automotive sectors. Turker is a retired lieutenant general.
Oyak is the commercial embodiment of Turkish military power that has been eroded in recent years.
The military overthrew governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
The latest probe is focused on a military-orchestrated campaign forcing Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan from office in 1997 over perceived threats to Turkey’s secular order, in an episode often referred to as Turkey’s “post-modern coup”.
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 later success of Erdogan’s AKP.
In the first wave of detentions on April 12, police hauled in 31 people including top retired General Cevik Bir, who was one of 18 people subsequently sent to jail pending trial to prevent the risk of them fleeing.
At the weekend, eight more people, including a retired major general, were remanded in custody. There is no provision for bail in Turkey and pre-trial detention can drag on for months.
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 AK Party government.
Erdogan said at the weekend the latest investigation should not turn into a “witch hunt” but said support for the military intervention that came from business leaders, the media and academics should be revealed.
After years of investigating alleged coup plots, prosecutors have now turned their attention to the 1980 coup. Earlier this month an Ankara court began hearing the case against former president and coup leader Kenan Evren, now 94.
That coup led to the execution of 50 people, the torture of thousands, and disappearance of hundreds more in three years of military rule.
Writing by Daren Butler Editing by Maria Golovnina