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Mass resignations may mark end of era for Turkey military

31 july 2011, 16:28
Chief-of-staff General Isik Kosaner. ©REUTERS/Umit Bektas
Chief-of-staff General Isik Kosaner. ©REUTERS/Umit Bektas
The shock mass resignation of Turkey's top brass could mark the end of an era when the country's military, which ousted four past governments, played a key political role, AFP reports citing analysts as saying .

"The old military guard gave up," said analyst Ahmet Insel, the co-author of a book on the Turkish army's role in politics.

"It is a turning point in relations between the military and politics, a sharp turning point," said Murat Yetkin, the editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News, though he added it was too soon to declare the end of the army's role in politics.

NATO member Turkey's entire military command resigned Friday in a row with the government over officers jailed for alleged coup plots -- the latest episode in a long-running battle between the staunchly secularist army and the Islamist-rooted government.

Chief-of-staff General Isik Kosaner and the commanders of the land, air and naval forces all resigned.

Kosaner stepped down after several recent meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of an early August gathering of the army's high command that decides on promotions for senior officers.

Media reports blamed tensions between the military and Erdogan over army demands for the promotion of dozens of officers being held in a probe of alleged plots to oust the government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist movement.

About a 10th of the army's generals are in jail over the alleged 2003 coup plot -- dubbed "Operation Sledgehammer" and allegedly drawn up shortly after the AKP came to power.

The suspects are facing 15-20 years in jail, though the case has been marred by serious doubts over the authenticity of some implicating documents.

By resigning, "the generals implicitly accepted that the accusations are grounded," Insel said.

Tensions between the country's political and military leaders have been building to a head for years and analysts said the AKP, in power since 2002, may have been emboldened by a June election victory that saw the party score its best performance yet.

Friday's mass resignation is a clear sign of the "definitive impact of the June elections on relations between the government and the army," columnist Derya Sazak wrote in the daily Milliyet on Saturday.

"This crisis is the inevitable result of the power struggle between the army and the government that has been ongoing since 2007," Sazak said.

A parliamentary vote in 2007 saw the AKP's candidate Abdullah Gul elected president despite fierce opposition from the military, who see the presidential office as a key guarantor of the country's secularism.

Gul's history of political Islam and the symbolism of his wife's decision to wear a headscarf saw the military use its influence to initially block his election. The AKP called snap general polls and was returned with a stronger share of the vote, after which Gul was elected.

"The government does not want to work with those commanders who tried to suspend the election of the president and were involved in 'coup attempts.' It wants to eliminate them," Sazak said.

Some analysts hailed the resignations as a step toward the further democratisation of the country.

"The period of coups (in Turkey) is coming to an end... Turkey is proceeding toward democracy and bringing an end to military guardianship," wrote Ahmet Altan, the editor-in-chief of the daily Taraf, the newspaper whose exclusive stories paved the way for the coup probes.

Still, others are cautious about declaring an end to the tension between government and the military, which carried out coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, and in 1997 led a campaign that forced the resignation of the country's first Islamist-led government, headed by Erdogan's mentor Necmettin Erbakan.

"Until this 'Sledgehammer' case, which seems to be extended over years, comes to an end, the relations between the government and the military will always be tense," said Sedat Ergin, a columnist with Hurriyet.

"What if those officers will be acquitted?" he said.

By Safak Timur

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