Seven senior military officers have been charged with plotting to overthrow Turkey's elected government as military leaders warned that the country was in a "serious" situation.
By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Published: 4:58PM GMT 24 Feb 2010
More than fifty former officers, including a deputy chief of the armed forces and the ex-heads of the air force and navy, have been held in connection with the "Sledgehammer" plot to depose the Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The plot was revealed last month in documents leaked to the Taraf newspaper, which claimed they dated from 2003 and contained internal army plans to stage a coup.
The civilian court in Istanbul remanded four admirals, an army general and two staff colonels pending a trial. Speculation mounted that more arrests could include the former armed forces chief, who led a coup against the government in 1980.
As tensions rose between the government and the armed forces, the country's top generals and admirals met on Tuesday to evaluate the "serious situation", a military spokesman said.
Later on Wednesday, the office of Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, said he would meet on Thursday morning with the prime minister and the army chief, merging routine separate talks.
Experts on Turkey said Mr Erdogan is winning the battle of wills with the military, but that the overall outcome was that the popularity of his party was declining.
"The government is pushing this coup plot to undermine the standing of the military," said Fadi Hakura from the Chatham House think tank. "But although it seems to be winning its battles, it is not winning the war because it is seeing a steady erosion of its popularity among the people."
Turkey's military, which views itself as the founder of the state, has overthrown four governments since 1960 but conditions of European Union membership negotiations has left it little scope to depose elected politicians.
After decades of unquestioned military supremacy, the sight of senior military leaders – who are commonly addressed with the Ottoman-era title of pasha – handcuffed and facing the courts is a stark reversal of fortune.
Although the ruling AK Party enjoys a large majority and elections are not due until next year, the uncertainty took a toll on the markets with the Lira and markets recording a third day of losses.
The Islamic roots of the AK Party have attracted the hostility of the Turkish establishment ever since it was elected in 2002. The party is extremely popular and portrays itself as a modernising force in Turkish politics. But its opponents fear that AK habours a secret plan to transform Turkey into an Islamic state. Critics pointed out that more than 17,000 bars selling alcohol have closed since it came to power.
Gen Yaşar Büyükanıt, a former chief of staff, admitted on Wednesday that he had intervened in the last presidential election in 2007 to remind politicians of the military's "commitment to secularism."