Page last updated at 04:52 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Turkey general dismisses coup plot allegations

Turkey's Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug
Gen Basbug has ordered investigations into the allegedly leaked documents

The head of Turkey's armed forces has responded angrily to a newspaper report accusing the military of plotting to overthrow the government.

Gen Ilker Basbug delivered a televised address in which he warned that the military's patience over a stream of allegations had limits.

He insisted coups were a thing of the past, and that power should only change hands through democratic means.

Turkey has experienced several military coups in its recent history.

The armed forces have continued to play a political role behind the scenes.

For the past two years, the Turkish people have been bombarded with sensational revelations about alleged dirty tricks by elements of the military.

Some of the allegations, relating to a sinister "deep state" network known as Ergenekon, have already resulted in the arrest and trials of dozens of people, including retired generals.

But there have been further reports of military plots against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - backed by some convincing-looking documents - all reported in a two-year-old independent newspaper.

'No longer untouchable'

The latest alleges a plan - allegedly codenamed "sledgehammer" - drawn up seven years ago by the army to plant bombs in mosques and create enough chaos to justify a coup.

The paper has handed a new set of leaked documents to state prosecutors for further investigation - but the chief-of-staff of the armed forces, Gen Basbug, has now responded with an angry statement denying the possibility of such a plan.

"Our soldiers charge into battle crying out 'Allah, Allah'," he said, banging his fist on the table.

"How could such an army bomb a mosque? I curse these claims."

Gen Basbug says the source of the allegations was a routine war-gaming exercise in 2003.

He says he has ordered investigations into more than 60 cases of military documents being leaked to the media.

It is impossible to assess the truth of the allegations - but Turkey's armed forces, once an untouchable institution, have been thrown on the defensive by them.

In his statement, Gen Basbug insisted that coups were a thing of the past - in the current anti-military climate many Turks will probably agree with that.

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