21 Detained in Alleged Plot to Topple Turkish Government

Police on Monday detained at least 21 people, including a university president, over an alleged secularist conspiracy to topple the Islamic-rooted government, Turkish media reported.

Police also searched the headquarters of a television station and several branches of a secularist group, the Association to Support Contemporary Life, the state-run Anatolia news agency and other reports said.

The detentions followed a series of earlier arrests ordered by prosecutors investigating an alleged organization called the Ergenekon gang. Prosecutors claim that dozens of military officers, police officers, journalists and academics belong to the group and that they plotted the coup. The name comes from a legendary ancestral homeland of the Turks.

More than 200 suspects have been detained since 2007 in the case that highlights a rift between an increasingly powerful class of pious Muslims who run the government with a strong electoral mandate, and secular elites who fear the government is seeking to impose religion on society.

The suspects are accused of seeking to create chaos in order to trigger a military takeover.

Critics say the arrests are part of the government's attempt to muzzle secular opponents. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denies the charge and says his government upholds Turkey's secular principles.

Those detained for questioning Monday included Prof. Mehmet Haberal, the president and owner of Ankara's Baskent University and professors Fatih Hilmioglu and Ferit Bernay, the former presidents of universities in the cities of Malatya and Samsun, Anatolia reported.

Haberal had organized meetings with secularists opposed to the government, reportedly with the aim of forming a new political movement or party. Haberal also owns pro-secular Kanal B television, whose headquarters were searched Monday.

Ergenekon's alleged ringleaders include two retired generals. They face life in prison if convicted.