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Turkey consolidates civilian control of military

Turkey's PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) heads the Interior Security Meeting with top military commanders in Ankara. (Reuters)

Source : Tulay Karadeniz | Reuters
ANKARA | 04 Aug 2011

Turkey selected four new generals to lead its armed forces on Thursday in a shake-up which is seen as consolidating civilian control of the military after the previous four quit last week in protest at the jailing of officers in coup conspiracy cases.

Gen. Necdet Ozel, previously head of the paramilitary gendarmerie, was named as new chief of general staff for the second largest armed forces in NATO.

The shock departure last Friday of Ozel's predecessor Isik Kosaner and the heads of the ground forces, navy and air force, brought to the surface years of tension between the secularist military and a prime minister whose party emerged from a banned Islamic party more than a decade ago.

President Abdullah Gul approved the appointment of new army, navy and air force chiefs, presidential spokesman Ahmet Sezer told reporters after a meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS).

He said there was also agreement on the new Chief of General Staff, whose appointment required formal Cabinet approval.

Earlier Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited military headquarters to sign off on the promotions, seen as enabling him to tighten control over a military which once had the last word in Turkish politics but whose powers he had curbed while pushing through EU-backed reforms to strengthen democracy.

The new generals, too, may not love the AK Party, given the ingrained antipathy to it in the military establishment. But Erdogan will make sure that they will not turn a blind eye to any fellow officers running rogue operations against his government.

None of the top appointments was a major surprise but the names indicated a measure of compromise. The choice of Gen. Hayri Kivrikoglu as new head of the ground forces will have raised some eyebrows. When the general was serving in northern Cyprus he refused to greet President Gul at the airport.

Another candidate for the post, Gen. Aslan Guner, was appointed head of the military academies. His path to the top was believed to have been blocked by his refusal to shake the hand of the president's wife.

Just over four years ago, the military tried and failed to prevent the AK party from installing Gul as president.

Aegean Army commander Gen. Nusret Tasdeler, who was the subject of an arrest warrant last week along with 21 others over allegations that the military set up anti-government websites, was given the role of education and doctrine commander.

Gen. Saldiray Berk, a potential candidate for the ground forces post, took retirement. He faces trial related to the alleged "Ergenekon" network intent on undermining the AK party.

Another top general missing from the council was one of some 250 officers now jailed on charges linked to various alleged anti-government plots dating back to 2003.

Under the alleged "Sledgehammer" plot, around 200 officers are charged with planning to destabilize the government by bombing mosques and triggering conflict with neighboring Greece. Officers say evidence against them has been fabricated and that allegations of a coup plot arose from a war game exercise.

Former military chief Kosaner issued a farewell message on Friday saying he could no longer bear to stand by while comrades languished in jail, victims of prosecution cases he described as flawed and unjust.

Erdogan's won 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election in June, and it will try to build consensus with the main secular and ethnic Kurdish parties to replace a constitution written after the 1980 military coup.

The ructions in the military are unlikely to help reduce a polarization in Turkish politics.

Presidential spokesman Sezer also said a decision was taken at the Supreme Military Council meeting to extend by one year the duties of 14 generals currently jailed as part of the conspiracy investigations. There had been speculation that they would be forced into retirement.

 

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