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Turkey military chiefs step down

The chiefs of staff of Turkey's military have stepped down as tensions dramatically increased over the arrest of dozens of officers accused of plotting to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government.

The resignation of so many top commanders for the first time ever in Turkey, a Nato member, signals a deep rift with the government, which has been confident in confronting a military that once held sway over Turkish political life. The arrests of high-ranking military officers would once have been unimaginable.

The resignations of Turkey's top general, Isik Kosaner, along with the country's navy, army and air force commanders, came hours after a court charged 22 suspects, including several generals and officers, with carrying out an internet campaign to undermine the government. The commanders asked to be retired, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

In Brussels, a Nato spokeswoman declined to comment on the resignations. Turkey's military is the second largest in the 27-member alliance. It has about 1,800 troops as part of Nato's 140,000-strong force in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with General Necdet Ozel, the commander of the gendarme forces - the highest-ranking commander who remains in office. Mr Ozel is widely expected to become the next head of the military and Mr Kosaner's resignation might speed up the process.

The commanders who stepped down decided not to attend a scheduled reception hosted by the embassy of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in a possible move to avoid civilian leaders, NTV television said.

Mr Kosaner had met Mr Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul earlier on Friday to discuss several key appointments during next week's high military council meeting.

Seventeen generals and admirals, who are in line for promotion, have been jailed along with nearly 200 officers on charges of plotting to overthrow the government in 2003 in a case called the "Sledgehammer".

More than 400 people - including academics, journalists, politicians and soldiers - are also on trial on separate charges of plotting to bring down the government. That case is based on a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called "Ergenekon".

The government denies the cases are politically motivated and says it is just trying to work to improve democracy. Mr Erdogan's ruling party, which won a third term in elections on June 12 in a landslide victory, has said its key goal is to replace a military-era constitution with a more democratic one.


From Belfast Telegraph