ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday rejected allegations by the opposition that his government was trying to silence critics through intimidation after a court ruling jailed 10 percent of the country's generals and admirals on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
An Istanbul court jailed at least 155 officers, including former air force and navy chiefs, so far this week in a long-standing conflict between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popular government and Turkey's secular establishment, which has long been led by the military. Among the jailed were 30 active generals and admirals who lost their chances for promotion once put behind bars, the Cumhuriyet newspaper reported Tuesday.
Erdogan insisted the courts are independent of the executive branch in Turkey.
"This trial process will answer all questions in the minds of people and strengthen the Turkish Armed Forces further," Erdogan told lawmakers in parliament. "All should respect the judicial process."
Erdogan was responding to criticism by Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Action Party, who accused the government of "portraying itself as the victim of a coup plot ahead of elections."
The ruling Justice and Development Party, which won 46.6 percent of the vote in 2007, is widely expected to win its third consecutive election victory in June.
Since taking power in 2002, Erdogan's party has repeatedly denied that it is trying to impose religion on politics and society. However, secularists view as alarming its attempts to permit Islamic style head scarves at universities, criminalize adultery and restrict alcohol sales.
The main opposition pro-secular Republican People's Party has long accused the government of silencing its critics based on flimsy charges. The Star newspaper on Tuesday said prosecutors believe documents seized during a recent raid to a naval base confirms the officers were planning to create chaos to trigger a coup in a plot dubbed the "Sledgehammer."
Prosecutors have separately charged about 400 soldiers, academics, journalists and politicians of forming an alleged network, called Ergenekon, and conspire to overthrow Erdogan's government in a previous case. No one has yet been convicted.
On Monday, the police raided a dissident news website, the Oda TV, and detained its owner, journalist Soner Yalcin, and three colleagues for questioning for alleged links to the Ergenekon network.
Turkish news reports said Oda TV was targeted hours after posting a video that allegedly discredits police investigating the network. Journalists' groups denounced the raid as an attack on press freedom.