Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 'coup plot' warning

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) talks to his deputy Bulent Arinc in parliament, Ankara, 25 February 2010
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (l) said conspirators "won't get away with it"

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed that conspirators in an alleged plot to sow chaos and provoke a coup will face justice.

"No one is above law, no one has impunity," he told a gathering of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

His comments came after a further 11 military officers were charged, bringing the total to 31.

The case has increased tensions between the military and the government, which is led by the Islamist-rooted AKP.

Several suspects were taken to court for questioning on Friday including Gen Cetin Dogan, the former head of Turkey's First Army region.

The military has denied any coup plot.

"Those conspiring behind closed doors to trample on the nation's will from now on find themselves facing justice," Mr Erdogan said.

Jonathan Head
Jonathan Head, BBC News, Istanbul

After a week of high drama at the state security court in Istanbul, the judges have almost completed their assessment of the 49 military suspects detained on Monday.

Thirty-one officers, among them seven navy admirals and four army generals, have been charged with conspiring to provoke a military takeover in the months following the AKP's first election victory in 2002.

That makes this the most ambitious attempt yet to prosecute armed forces personnel in civilian courts. Three other officers, including the general who allegedly masterminded the plot, are still being questioned.

For the once untouchable military the week's events will have been a humbling experience. But it could have been worse; last night the three most senior officers among the 49 were released.

"They should know that they won't get away with it," he added.

On Thursday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul sought to reassure the country, saying tensions over an alleged military coup plot would be resolved within the "constitution".

He made the statement after meeting the head of the armed forces, Gen Ilker Basbug, along with Mr Erdogan.

The 11 suspects most recently charged are among more than 49 people detained over the alleged coup plot on Monday, in an operation of unprecedented scale.

A total of 31 officers have now been charged and jailed, including seven navy admirals and four army generals.

The former heads of the air force and navy and a general were freed on Thursday, having been questioned by prosecutors.

The three - retired air force head Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former deputy army chief Ergin Saygun - have not been charged but remain under investigation, prosecutors said.

A number of others have also been released.

Turkey's military has overthrown or forced the resignation of four governments since 1960 - most recently in 1997 - though Gen Basbug has insisted that coups are a thing of the past.

Power struggle

Reports of the alleged "sledgehammer" plot first surfaced in the liberal Taraf newspaper, which said it had discovered documents detailing plans to bomb two Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane over the Aegean Sea.

The army has said the scenarios were discussed but only as part of a planning exercise at a military seminar.

June 2007: Cache of explosives discovered; ex-soldiers detained
July 2008: 20 arrested, including two ex-generals and a senior journalist, for "planning political disturbances and trying to organise a coup"
July 2008: Governing AK Party narrowly escapes court ban
October 2008: 86 go on trial charged with "Ergenekon" coup plot
July 2009: 56 in dock as second trial opens
Jan 2010: Taraf newspaper reports 2003 "sledgehammer" plot to provoke coup
Feb 2010: More than 40 officers arrested over "sledgehammer"; 20 charged

The alleged plot is similar, and possibly linked, to the reported Ergenekon conspiracy, in which military figures and staunch secularists allegedly planned to foment unrest, leading to a coup.

Scores of people, including military officers, journalists and academics, are on trial in connection with that case.

Many Turks regard the cases as the latest stage in an ongoing power struggle between Turkey's secular nationalist establishment and the governing AKP.

Critics believe the Ergenekon and sledgehammer investigations are simply attempts to silence the government's political and military opponents.

The AK Party has its roots in political Islam, and is accused by some nationalists of having secret plans to turn staunchly secular Turkey into an Islamic state.

The government rejects those claims, saying its intention is to modernise Turkey and move it closer to EU membership.

"The process underway is painstaking, but it is for the benefit of the people, today's developments are setting free the consciousness of the people," Mr Erdogan said.

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