Turkish military breaks silence over new plot story

ISTANBUL Wed Dec 23, 2009 12:27pm EST

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's military broke its silence on Wednesday over reports that two officers had been detained on suspicion of plotting to assassinate a deputy prime minister, saying they were premature as police investigations were incomplete.

The reports fueled rumors of growing tension between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party and the armed forces, seen as a guarantor of Turkey's secular constitution.

Turkish media have run stories of last Saturday's detentions in Ankara for the past few days, but there had been no official confirmation until the military issued its statement on Wednesday.

Media had an incomplete picture of Saturday's detentions and police were still investigating the matter, the statement said. "The truth about this case will be learned only after the court completes its investigation," it added.

The two men had been released after their cars and homes were searched, it said. Police had found no guns or voice recording machines, although computers and storage devices were confiscated as possible evidence.

Talk of strains between the government and the military, which has staged four coups since 1960, can upset Turkish financial markets. However, they have shown little reaction so far this week.

Political risk will probably become a bigger factor for investors the closer Turkey, which has applied to join the European Union, moves toward a general election due by mid-2011, say analysts. The AK Party will seek a third term then.

Newspapers said the detained officers were suspected of conspiring to kill Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc. Some reports linked them to suspects named in an investigation into an alleged ultra-nationalist network, known as Ergenekon.

Police say they uncovered the shadowy group, named after a mythical valley where ancient Turks lived, more than two years ago and some 200 people have been arrested in the probe, including military officers, lawyers and academics.

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The military also said in the statement that the men had been arrested while conducting an official investigation into "a military official suspected of leaking information."

While the case has been followed closely by the public, many people don't know whom to believe. The suicide of several officers linked to the Ergenekon probe, the most recent on Sunday, has added to the mystery.

Investigations into Ergenekon initially won public support from Turks tired of their democracy being undermined by militant secularists embedded in the judiciary, armed forces and civil service -- often referred to as the "Deep State."

That support ebbed once the investigation broadened out, and there were arrests of critics of the Erdogan government who had little to do with the nationalist camp.

Investors fear a backlash from the armed forces if the investigation targets top military brass.

Earlier this month, prosecutors called in three retired commanders to testify in the probe, and the military chief of staff warned prosecutors last Thursday to be more sensitive using information received from anonymous sources.

"This may get to the point where it causes conflict among institutions of the state," General Ilker Basbug said.

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