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Turk army general denies link with plot

Published: 12:43PM Thursday January 31, 2008 Source: Reuters

Turkey's military has dismissed suggestions of any link to an ultra-nationalist gang being investigated on accusations it sought to engineer a coup against the country's Islamist-rooted government in 2009.

Police have filed charges against 29 people, including retired army officers, as part of their probe into a far-right group known as Ergenekon, suspected of planning bombings and assassinations calculated to trigger an army takeover.

The "Ergenekon" scandal has shone a spotlight on Turkey's 'deep state', code for ultra-nationalists in the security forces and state bureaucracy who are ready to bend the law or act against the government in pursuit of their political aims.

Turkish nationalists are very critical of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's centre-right government, which has Islamist roots, in particular its liberal economic and political reforms aimed at preparing the Muslim country for European Union entry.

"At every opportunity, there have been in the past and there continue to be efforts to link the armed forces with these kinds of things," Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff General Yasar Buyukanit told reporters in televised remarks during a meeting with Macedonia's defence minister.

"The Turkish armed forces is not a criminal organisation... If a crime has been committed, then it will be punished. It is for the court, not for individuals, to give that punishment."

Retired brigadier major Veli Kucuk and retired major Zekeriya Ozturk are among 29 people so far charged with involvement in plans for a violent uprising against the government, Turkish newspapers and television have reported.

The group's aim was to stage a series of bombings and assassinations -- including of Turkey's Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk -- in order to frighten the public, sow chaos and provoke a military takeover, the newspapers say.

"Influential Friends"

The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, quoting police sources, said this week the suspect Kucuk had tried to ring "influential friends" just before his arrest on Jan. 22.

Some Turks believe Kucuk and his colleagues have powerful contacts in various parts of the state apparatus.

Police have been observing Ergenekon, which is named after a valley in Turkish nationalist mythology, for several years and have compiled a 7,000-page dossier on the group and its activities, Turkish newspapers say.

Turkey's military has overthrown four governments in the past 50 years, most recently -- with broad public support -- a 'soft coup' in 1997 involving pressure but no violence against a government it believed posed an Islamist threat to the state.

The last violent coup in Turkey was in 1980, when the military seized power amid killings and bloody street fighting between leftist and rightist groups.

On Wednesday, Buyukanit also reaffirmed the military's determination to defend Turkey's secular order.

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