* Erdogan says he now facing a new "dirty plot' to unseat
* Hundreds convicted in Ergenekon, Sledgehammer conspiracies
* Analyst says Erdogan seeking to discredit Gulen movement
(Adds analyst, bar association, jailed general, Gulen letter)
By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL, Jan 6 Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan has mooted the retrial of hundreds of army officers
convicted of planning his overthrow, in an apparent attempt to
discredit rivals he accuses of contriving a corruption crisis to
drive him from office.
Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party is widely held to have
relied heavily on U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen's
influence in the police and judiciary in breaking the power of
an army that carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and
forced an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.
Now Erdogan followers, facing what they term a dirty plot by
Gulen's secretive Hizmet (Service) movement to tar the cabinet
with corruption accusations, suggest some officers jailed in the
"Sledgehammer" trials that helped rein in army power may have
suffered injustice by police or judiciary.
The clash between the erstwhile allies, now apparently
extending to the highly sensitive issue of the army, has dealt a
blow to Erdogan. His decade in power has seen strong economic
growth and stability questioned only by widespread summer
protests over wht critics regard as his authoritarian style.
"There is not a problem for us about retrials as long as the
legal basis is established," Erdogan told reporters late on
Sunday before leaving on an official visit to Asia. "In terms of
regulations, we are ready to do what we can."
The army, which has in the past hinted at concerns over
Hizmet, has filed a criminal complaint, arguing evidence against
serving and retired officers had been fabricated.
A review may also cover military, businessmen, journalists
and politicians jailed in a separate "Ergenekon" investigation.
The graft scandal exploded on Dec. 17 with the detention of
businessmen close to the government and sons of three cabinet
ministers since resigned. The government has hit back by
dismissing or reassigning hundreds of police officers across the
country and blocking a second investigation of large
infrastructure projects he has backed.
Erdogan and Hizmet, which exercises influence through a
network of contacts built on sponsorship of schools and other
social and media organisations, accuse each other of
manipulating police and compromising the independence of the
Erdogan, still by far the most popular politician, accuses
Hizmet of creating a "state within a state" backed by foreign
forces hostile to Turkey.
What had been common ground between Erdogan and Gulen - the
taming of the army - appears now to have soured into a conflict
parallel with the corruption dispute.
Security analyst Gareth Jenkins, who has followed the coup
plot trials closely, said the latest move by Erdogan appeared to
be aimed at discrediting the Gulen movement.
"If he can publicise the fabrications of evidence, the
tampering of evidence and everything else that happened during
these trials then he will discredit the Gulen movement
directly," Jenkins told Reuters.
"It will also help him to try to undermine the accusations
the movement is making against him in terms of corruption. I can
see the logic in what he is trying to do," he said.
After meeting top Ergenekon defendants in Silivri jail near
Istanbul on Monday, bar association head Feyzioglu proposed
formulas for a retrial, including the complete abolition of the
special authority courts which heard the two cases.
"If this country's prime minister, interior minister and
advisers have said 'there is a parallel state grouping within
the judiciary' and 'the TSK (armed forces) have been plotted
against', it is impossible for us to ignore this," he said.
"Today a serious legal tragedy is taking place," he said
after meeting the most senior Ergenekon defendant, former armed
forces chief General Ilker Basbug.
A court on Monday rejected Basbug's latest bid to be
released and he railed against his continued detention on what
was the second anniversary of his imprisonment in Silivri.
"Two stolen great years. Stolen from my life, the life of my
family and those close to me... I don't know how long this
theft, this robbery will continue," he said on his official
In an apparent bid to resolve the conflict between the
government and Gulen movement, Gulen wrote a letter to "dear
friend" President Abdullah Gul on Dec. 22, media reports
revealed at the weekend.
"I am ready to do all I can in my talks to lower the tension
and recommend restraint to our friends and followers," Gulen
wrote, according to a full text of the letter published by the
pro-government Yeni Safak daily.
He also expressed sadness at "black propaganda" spread by
some media targeting his supporters and purges of civil servants
seen as close to the movement.
Gulen's letter was written before a second corruption
investigation emerged and acrimony has grown since then, with
Yeni Safak columnist Cem Kucuk saying it was too late for what
he described as a call for peace and negotiation.
"From this moment forward there can be no peace. The
government must do what is necessary regarding this structure
which questions its legitimacy and it will do. All elements of
the junta will be called to account one by one," he wrote.
(Additional reporting by Seda Sezer; Writing by Nick
Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton)