Monday, August 1, 2011

Turkish Army Opens Key Meet After Mass Resignations

ISTANBUL - Turkey's Supreme Military Council began a crucial annual meeting Aug. 1 days after the shock mass resignation of the top brass in a clash with the government over promotions.
The meeting, which reviews the promotion prospects of senior officers, opened under the direction of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan but, for the first time ever, without the country's four top generals in attendance.
Armed forces chief Isik Kosaner and the separate heads of the army, navy and air force all dramatically resigned July 29 in a row with Ankara over the promotion of dozens of officers held in a probe of alleged plots to oust the government.
After the mass resignations, Erdogan named as acting forces chief Gen. Necdet Ozel, who was the head of the military police. Ozel, who was also tapped to head the army on an emergency basis, is co-chairing the promotions meeting.
Tensions between Turkey's fiercely secularist military and the government led by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been building for years.
About one-tenth of the army's generals are in custody over an alleged 2003 coup plot that AKP officials say was hatched shortly after the party took power in 2002.
The suspects face 15 years to 20 years in jail, though the case has been marred by serious doubts over the authenticity of some implicating documents.
The government on July 29 nevertheless announced six new charges against the implicated generals, relating to additional coup plots and the creation of websites filled with anti-government propaganda.
Kosaner had several recent meetings with Erdogan to lobby on behalf of the officers, insisting that they still benefit from promotions despite the pending charges, local media has reported.
Analysts say the feud over promotions is part of a ruling party strategy to ensure its fiercest opponents within the military do not rise to key posts.
Huseyin Celik, the AKP vice president, insisted the executive branch will no longer adhere to the tradition of rubber stamping candidates fronted by the army chief.
"In your capacity (as army chief), you can propose names, but you can't impose," Celik was quoted as saying in the Milliyet newspaper on July 31.
Appointing Ozel as permanent army chief is unlikely to cause further confrontation, media analysts said.
But the government could provoke another round of mass resignations if it by-passes senior military officers seen as hostile to the ruling party when it picks the new heads of the air, land and sea forces.
President Abdullah Gul, a close Erdogan ally whose 2007 election was met with fierce opposition from the military, is set to disclose the council's decisions on July 28.
Since 1960, the military, which views itself as the defender of secularism in the country, has ousted four Turkish governments, including that of Ergodan's mentor Necmettin Erbakan in 1997.

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