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Turkey rules out crisis regarding the military

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[July 30, 2011]  ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey's president acknowledged Saturday that the resignation of the nation's top military commanders was unprecedented, but he said it would not cause a crisis.

The commanders suddenly quit Friday to protest the arrest of dozens of generals as suspects in an alleged plot to overthrow the country's Islamic-rooted government.

Many have questioned whether such a plot ever existed and see the arrests as part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's long-standing campaign to establish civilian authority over Turkey's once powerful military. The government strongly denies that allegation.

"No one should see this as a crisis in Turkey," President Abdullah Gul told reporters on Saturday. "The developments yesterday were extraordinary within its scope, but as you see, everything is continuing on its own course. There is no (power) vacuum."

Turkey, a member of NATO, has contributed to the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, and the military often fights Kurdish rebels who have been waging a campaign for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984 -- a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Erdogan, who has been in power since 2002, has worked hard to establish civilian authority over Turkey's once-powerful military, which had staged three coups since 1960 and pressured an Islamist premier out of office in 1997.

On Saturday, Labor Minister Faruk Celik tried to reassure the country that the sudden change of the military's leadership is no cause for concern.

"I believe that what happened yesterday night would contribute to the normalization of Turkey as well as putting the military-civilian relations on the right track," he said in a speech in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa.

Gen. Isik Kosaner resigned on Friday as the military's chief of staff along with the commanders of the navy, the army and the air force.

The government then quickly promoted Gen. Necdet Ozel, Turkey's commander of the military police, as the new land forces commander and the acting chief of the military. Ozel is widely expected to be formally appointed as Turkey's top military commander as early as Saturday.

Gul said "Kosaner asked to be retired," and that the others had already reached the retirement age. The president said their departure will enable the formation of a new command structure at a key military meeting that begins Monday.

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Gul said Turkey's independent judiciary is overseeing the court process regarding the arrests of the accused military officers in the alleged anti-government plot, and that his government is playing no role in the cases.

The resignations highlight the traditional rift in Turkey between staunchly secular circles and the growing power of Erdogan's government with Islamic roots.

The resignations came after a court ordered the arrest of seven more active duty generals and admirals along with more than a dozen other officers on charges of carrying out an Internet campaign to undermine the government.

Kosaner said in his farewell message that he was resigning because he could not protect the rights of his staff now that 250 officers, including several generals and admirals, have been imprisoned. They include 173 active duty and 77 retired officers, he said.

"As many law experts say, it is not possible to accept that the arrests comply with international rules of law, justice and values of conscience," Kosaner said.

His decision is not expected to cause short-term political or military instability in Turkey. The government has presided over the strengthening of civilian institutions as well as an economic boom, sidelining the military's political role and reducing the public's appetite for the intervention of the armed forces in nonmilitary matters.

[Associated Press; By SELCAN HACAOGLU]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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