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Turkey stable after 'four-star quake'

Gen. Erdal Ceylanoglu (left), Turkey's outgoing land forces commander, exchanges gifts with his successor, Gen. Necdet Ozel duri

Source : Reuters
ISTANBUL | 30 Jul 2011

President Abdullah Gul denied Saturday that Turkey faced a crisis after the resignation of the country's four most senior military commanders, but acknowledged this had created an "extraordinary" situation.

The departure of the generals has caused turmoil in the military, giving Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan an opportunity to extend his authority over the once-dominant armed forces, the second biggest in NATO.

Chief of General Staff Gen. Isik Kosaner stepped down Friday evening along with the army, navy and air force commanders in protest over the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against Erdogan's government.

In a farewell message to "brothers in arms," Kosaner said it was impossible to continue in his job as he could not defend the rights of men who had been detained as a consequence of a flawed judicial process.

Relations between the military and Erdogan's socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first won power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK's religious roots.

While the departures are embarrassing, they could give Erdogan a decisive victory over a military that sees itself as guardian of the secularist state envisioned by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Analysts perceive little political threat to Erdogan's supremacy. AK won a third consecutive term, taking 50 percent of the vote, in a parliamentary election in June.

"Nobody should view this as any sort of crisis or continuing problem in Turkey," Gul, a former top AK member, told reporters Saturday. "Undoubtedly events yesterday were an extraordinary situation in themselves, but everything is on course."

Erdogan designated Kosaner's successor on Friday, as his office put out a statement naming paramilitary Gendarmerie commander Gen. Necdet Ozel as new head of land forces and acting deputy chief of general staff, effectively making him next in line when Kosaner handed over the baton.

In years gone by, Turkey's generals were more likely to seize power than quit. They have staged three coups since 1960 and pushed an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

Some founders of AK, including Erdogan, were members of the Welfare Party, an Islamist party whose coalition was forced out 14 years ago. But as prime minister, Erdogan has ended the military's dominance through a series of reforms aimed at advancing Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.

"Four-star earthquake," a headline in Sabah newspaper said of the generals' decision, while papers also highlighted Kosaner's criticism of media reporting on the military.

"They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces were a criminal organization and ... the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations," Kosaner's statement said.

 

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