12 Officers Charged, Turkey Coup Plot

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Twelve senior Turkish military officers were charged on Wednesday over an alleged plot to topple a government that secularist hardliners fear is pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.

Turkey’s top military commanders, who have seen the army’s role as ultimate guardian of secularism eroded under European Union-backed reforms, held an emergency meeting late on Tuesday and warned in a statement of a “serious situation.”

With tensions hitting investors’ confidence and feeding speculation that elections due next year could be brought forward, Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul will meet Turkey’s top military commander on Thursday, a government source said.

Turkish stocks closed down 3.4 percent and the lira weakened to a seven-month low against the dollar, while bond yields rose.

Adding to uncertainty, Turkey’s chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said he was looking into statements made by deputies from the ruling AK Party, but had not reached the stage of opening a formal investigation against the party.

Yalcinkaya tried to have the party banned for anti-secular activities in 2008. Speculation that he could try again has prompted talk that the government could call a snap election.

The AK Party, first elected in 2002 in a landslide victory over older, established parties blighted by corruption and accusations of misrule, is also embroiled in a dispute with the judiciary — another pillar of the orthodox establishment.

The military has ousted four governments of various political hues since 1960, although the army says the days of coups are now over.

While the chances of another coup are seen as remote, anxiety is growing over what the generals might do next and what strains the situation might put on the armed forces’ leadership.

Turkey’s NATO allies, particularly the United States, want the overwhelmingly Muslim nation to mature as a democracy.

Its prospects of entering the EU depend partly on ending the special status that made the arrest of military personnel, still less a former force commander, by civilian authorities inconceivable until recently.

Tensions were triggered by an unprecedented police swoop on Monday that detained around 50 serving and retired officers.

A court late on Wednesday ordered five officers, four of them retired and including former Rear Admiral Feyyaz Ogutcu, to be sent to jail pending trial. Another two were released.

The most senior detainees, retired Air Force Commander Ibrahim Firtina and ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek, are being held at police headquarters in Istanbul and are expected to be brought to the court for questioning on Thursday.

The other seven officers charged in the early hours of Wednesday consisted of four admirals, two retired and two serving, a retired brigadier-general and two retired colonels.

Pending a formal indictment, the detainees are accused of belonging to a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government by force.

Six officers were released from custody on Tuesday after questioning. It was unclear if they would face charges.

The army leadership has said previously that probes into a series of alleged coup plots is hurting morale in the ranks.

In a characteristically veiled and brief statement on its web site on Tuesday, the General Staff said its top commanders had met to “assess the serious situation that has arisen.”

“What do you mean? Are you going to carry out a coup?” said a headline in Taraf, a low-circulation newspaper that has broken several stories of alleged coup plots.

The current investigation into the so-called “Sledgehammer” plan, allegedly drawn up in 2003, was triggered by a report in Taraf last month. The military has said the plan was just a scenario drawn up for an army seminar.

Retired military officers are among around 200 people indicted over separate plots by a far-right group known as Ergenekon. Critics say that trial is being used to target political opponents, an accusation the government rejects.

(Additional reporting by Pinar Aydinli, Zerin Elci and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara, Alexandra Hudson and Thomas Grove in Istanbul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Ralph Boulton and David Stamp)

12-9

NATO Seeks Russian Help in Afghanistan

October 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Brunnstrom

2009-10-07T135141Z_148940011_GM1E5A71OQP01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man heads home at the end of a day’s work in Kabul October 7, 2009.

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO urged Russia on Wednesday to expand its role in Afghanistan, including by equipping and training Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban.

While reiterating a call on European allies to step up their commitments in the country as the United States weighs a further boost in forces, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was also in Russia’s interests to do more.

He said agreements allowing transit of military supplies to Afghanistan via Russia could be expanded.

“Next, Russia could provide equipment for the Afghan security forces. Thirdly, Russia could provide training. These are just some examples. I think we should explore in a joint effort how we could further Russian engagement,” Rasmussen said.

“I know from the Russians that they are interested in a stronger engagement and we have to find ways and means because basically Afghanistan is one of the areas in which we share interests with Russia,” he told a monthly news conference.

Russia has said it fully backs U.S.-led efforts against the Taliban although it would not send its own soldiers to fight in the country where Moscow lost a 10-year war in the 1980s.

Rasmussen said he was pleased by the improvement in relations between NATO and Russia since a freeze imposed by the alliance after last year’s war between Georgia and Russia, even if there were still “fundamental areas on which we disagree.”

“But we can create a web of cooperation that is strong enough to survive these differences. We have to make NATO-Russia cooperation too good to lose,” he said.

EU CHIDED ON POLICE TRAINING

Rasmussen again called on European NATO allies to step up commitments in Afghanistan, chiding them for failing to provide all the 400 police trainers they had promised. “It is a bit embarrassing,” he said. “I would encourage all members of the European Union to do their utmost to ensure full deployment.”

Rasmussen urged the Netherlands to reconsider plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, asking them to stay and help train Afghan forces.

“I would regret a Dutch withdrawal,” he said. “We are at a critical juncture, where there should be no doubt about our firm commitment. Any such doubts will simply play into the hands of those who want us to fail … we need all allies contributing.”

Rasmussen said it was essential there was a fair balance between the contributions of the United States and its partners, and for that non-U.S. allies needed to do more. He said this was important not just for Afghanistan but for the future of NATO.

“I am afraid many in the U.S. will wonder about Europe as a real partner in security,” he said. “That would be damaging over the long term for NATO and the transatlantic relationship.”

NATO is looking to an expanded effort to beef up the Afghan police and army as the route to eventual withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, where they have been since toppling the Taliban after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

There are more than 100,000 foreign troops in the country, but they have struggled to contain a widening Islamist insurgency while mounting casualties have made the mission increasingly unpopular with Western public opinion.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

11-42