Turkey's government, military reach agreement on filling top armed forces posts

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The government and armed forces announced a compromise Monday on the appointment of Turkey's two top military positions — an agreement that showcased growing civilian authority over the military, which once shaped the country's politics.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused last week to approve the military's first choice for land forces commander, overturning an old practice in which the government rarely resisted such appointments despite its power of final approval for promotions within the ranks.

Erdogan's veto meant the current land forces commander, Gen. Isik Kosaner, had no replacement and could therefore not be named army chief of staff at the end of a four-day military council meeting last week.

The deal was reached late Sunday. President Abdullah Gul's office announcing early Monday that Gen. Erdal Ceylanoglu had been appointed land forces commander. That freed Kosaner to advance to chief of staff and oversee Turkey's land, navy, air and gendarmerie forces for the next three years.

The government opposed the military's candidate for land forces commander, Gen. Hasan Igsiz, after a prosecutor named him as a suspect in an alleged plot to set up Web sites to disseminate propaganda critical of the government.

No charges have been filed and the military rejects the accusations. Igsiz is currently the commander of Turkey's western defenses.

"We're not going to give the nod to everyone," Erdogan told reporters Sunday. "We also have certain rights."

The impasse was the latest round in a power struggle between the government and military, which have sparred since Erdogan's Islamic-oriented party came to power in 2003. The military considers itself the guardian of Turkey's secular principles.

Authorities ordered last month that 102 retired and active duty officers be jailed in an alleged 2003 plot to create chaos and trigger a military takeover. A court later lifted the arrest warrants but the accused face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The military, which has overthrown three governments since 1960 and pressured an Islamic-led government to step down in 1997, has denied such a plot, saying documents used as evidence were from a military training seminar during which officers simulated a scenario of internal strife.

More than 400 people — including pro-secular academics, journalists, politicians and soldiers — are already on trial on separate charges of plotting to bring down the government. That group is suspected in attacks on a newspaper and a courthouse, and plots to kill Erdogan and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Critics say the cases are built on flimsy evidence and illegal wiretaps. They say the accusations are a government attempt to silence Erdogan's opponents.

Kosaner, 65, will take over command of NATO's second largest army after the United States, from Gen. Ilker Basbug, who retires this month.

The general has led Turkey's land forces for the past two years. His previous positions included commander of the Turkish Military Academy and the Turkish forces in northern Cyprus.

Ceylanoglu, also 65, will lead the land forces until his retirement next year.