Turkey jails 1997 coup suspects pending trial

Mon Apr 16, 2012 4:20am EDT
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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Four generals, including a former deputy chief of staff, accused of ousting Turkey's first Islamist prime minister in 1997 in a coup, were put under pre-trial detention on Monday, the latest move against a once all-powerful military.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which itself has Islamist roots, has sought to curb the military's political influence and prosecutors have pursued officers suspected of plotting against current and former governments.

An Ankara court decided over the weekend that former deputy chief of staff Cevik Bir and other officers should be held under pre-trial detention to remove any risk of them fleeing, having ordered on Thursday they should be questioned over their role in the overthrow of prime minister Necmettin Erbakan 15 years ago.

A total of 18 former officers were detained pending trial on Sunday and in the early hours of Monday, state-run Anatolian news agency reported on its website. There is no provision for bail in Turkey, and pre-trial detention can drag on for months.

The suspects are being held in prison at Sincan, a town outside Ankara where the military ordered tanks onto the streets in 1997 in what became known as the "post-modern" coup because, unlike three earlier coups, the military did not resort to the actual use of force.

Erbakan, who died of heart failure aged 85 in March last year, pioneered Islamist politics in Muslim but strictly secular Turkey and paved the way for the subsequent success of Erdogan's socially conservative AKP.

"Those who have made this country pay great prices, put this country under great burden, will account for that before the courts," Erdogan said on Sunday.

"Everyone should understand that Turkey is not the old Turkey anymore. Turkey is no longer a country where anyone who gets up early can stage a coup," he said.

Many AKP leaders, including Erdogan, had belonged to Erbakan's party before it was banned.   Continued...