Turkey tries military over alleged anti-govt plot

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ISTANBUL: Nearly 200 Turkish military officers, including three top retired commanders, went on trial on Thursday charged with plotting to destabilise the government in a case likely to increase strains with the secularist armed forces.
Amid tight security the officers filed into a courtroom near Istanbul to answer accusations over an alleged 2003 conspiracy against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party government that was aimed at setting the scene for military intervention.
The “Operation Sledgehammer” case, which included plans to bomb historic mosques and provoke conflict with Greece, reflects a lingering mistrust between the military and a ruling party that critics say retains Islamist leanings.
The defendants, important figures in NATO’s second biggest army, deny any conspiracy and say scenarios discussed at a military seminar seven years ago were merely a war game exercise.
“When the time comes in court for the defence I will say that this case does not have a legitimate basis,” General Cetin Dogan, the former head of Turkey’s prestigious First Army, told broadcaster CNN Turk outside the court in Silivri, west of Istanbul. “I am very relaxed. I am on the right side and have never been on illegitimate ground. I am not a man of coups,” he said before entering the court, which is located in a prison complex.
Retired commanders of the navy and air force, Admiral Ozden Ornek and General Halil Ibrahim Firtina, were also among the 196 defendants. All but 10 of the defendants attended the hearing. The trial comes a little over six months before a parliamentary election. Erdogan, popular with conservative Muslims, is widely expected to win a third consecutive term. Since coming to power, the AK Party government has used reforms designed to boost Turkey’s bid for European Union membership as a means to reining in the authority of an army that has toppled four civilian governments since 1960.