86 Turks Indicted In Coup Plot Against Islamic-Rooted Government

Prosecutors on Monday indicted 86 secular Turks, including ex-army officers, on terrorism charges for their alleged involvement in plots to topple the Islamic-rooted government, a chief prosecutor said.

Aykut Cengiz Engin said the 86 — including at least one former general, journalists, academicians and businessmen — were charged either with forming or belonging to a terrorist organization, or of provoking an armed uprising with the aim of bringing down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

A court must now decide within two weeks whether to open the case.

The suspects allegedly crafted plans to create chaos that would provoke a military coup and topple Erdogan, whom they accuse of eroding Turkey's secular laws and making too many concessions to Christian and Kurdish minorities as part of the nation's bid to join the European Union.

The indictment is seen as the latest episode in an ongoing power struggle between the government and secular groups supported by the military and other state institutions. They include the judiciary and some trade groups, who accuse the government of attempting to raise Islam's profile in Turkey.

Turkey's military, which staged three coups in the past, has criticized the government for allegedly eroding the secular system. But the top brass is believed to have appeased hawks within its ranks by occasionally issuing harsh statements against the government.

Without the backing of the military command, retired generals would have a very hard time staging a coup and such attempts in the past have always failed, analysts say.

The military has returned power to civilians after restoring order following coups.

But the alleged plots indicate dimensions of the uneasiness and animosity felt toward the current government. If the plots are confirmed, they come at a time that the government is spearheading efforts to strengthen democracy in Turkey in the hope of getting the country admitted to the European Union.

The alleged coup plots are also being taken seriously because two previous army takeovers in Turkey — in 1960 and 1980 — were preceded by periods of civil strife.

The 86 secular Turks were detained after police uncovered a cache of hand grenades at the house of a retired noncommissioned officer in Istanbul last summer.

The investigation was deepened after Erdogan vowed to crack down on shadowy "deep state" gangs — a network of renegade agents within the state, driven by hardline nationalism, who may be taking the law into their own hands to target perceived enemies.

Three prosecutors have unveiled what they say is an intriguing net of ties between members of a secularist and nationalist group, called Ergenekon. It takes its name from a legendary plain in Central Asia, from where Turks are believed to have emerged.

The prosecutor accused the group of being behind 2006 attacks on Turkey's administrative court and the pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper, allegedly carried out by people impersonating Islamists. The attacks infuriated secularists and led to demonstrations against the government.

Engin said the current 2,455-page indictment also accuses suspects of possessing explosives and arms as well as obtaining classified documents and provoking military disobedience.

The prosecutor said an additional indictment is being prepared against a dozen other people, including two senior retired generals, who were arrested early this month for their alleged ties to the group. The two would have been serving officers when the coup plots were being devised, newspapers have reported.

In another court case, Erdogan's government is facing possible closure by the Constitutional Court for alleged anti-secular activity. The country's prosecutor also wants Erdogan and 70 other party members banned from joining a political party for five years.

This case results from the government's attempt to permit Islamic-style head scarves at universities. Last month, the Constitutional Court ruled that this violated Turkey's secular constitution.

Erdogan's party, formed in 2001 by politicians who once belonged to Turkey's Islamic movement, has denied that it has an Islamic agenda.