ANKARA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A series of alleged plots by the secularist military to unseat Turkey's Islamist-rooted AK Party have exposed a power struggle between elites in the EU candidate country.
Following are brief portraits of some of the main protagonists.
-- Erdogan is the AK Party leader and Turkey's most popular politician. He presided over Turkey's 2005 launch of European Union membership talks, but many in the secularist establishment suspect he harbours a plan for an Islamist state. A former Istanbul mayor who served a short jail sentence in 1999 for reading a poem that read, "Mosques are our barracks, minarets our bayonets and believers our army," Erdogan is a hero for millions of pious Turks from the Anatolian heartland who credit him for standing up against the powerful secularist establishment, including generals and judges. A devout Muslim, he denies charges of having an Islamist agenda.
-- A respected former foreign minister and one of the founders of the AK Party along with Erdogan, Gul has taken a moderating position since becoming president. He has been credited with helping avert an all-out confrontation between the government and the military by hosting a crisis meeting with Erdogan and the commander of the armed forces. He was voted president by the AK Party-controlled parliament in 2007 despite a military website condemnation -- branded an "e-coup" by critics -- of his appointment. Gul is viewed with suspicion by the secularist elite because of his Islamist past and because his wife wears the Muslim headscarf. His appointment to the post -- first occupied by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey -- ended the secularists' decades-old grip on the presidency.
-- Basbug's appointment in August 2008 raised expectations that friction between the government and generals would subside. However, he has been forced on to the defensive by alleged plots within the military to undermine the AK Party. Regarded as a cerebral general, Basbug has appeared to lose his cool in public appearances and has spoken of low morale among his men. He is believed to be under pressure to defend the military's prestige. He has said the days of coups are past and has dismissed the plots as part of a smear campaign. But he has also warned that the military could hit back with disclosures that would damage its enemies. The detention on Feb. 22 of retired air force commander Ibrahim Firtina, ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek and Ergin Saygun, a former deputy chief of general staff, was Basbug's hardest moment. The men were later freed but prosecutors can still charge them.
-- The no-nonsense, stern Yalcinkaya is the embodiment of Turkey's entrenched conservative judiciary, ever suspicious of any signs of perceived Islamist incursion in the state founded by Ataturk. He was behind a case to ban the AK Party for anti-secular activities in 2008, but the party narrowly avoided being closed down. Speculation that Yalcinkaya could try again has fuelled talk that the government could call a snap election.
-- As chief judge, Kilic played a key role when the Constitutional Court in 2008 narrowly rejected an attempt to shut down the AK Party. The 11-member court has overturned many of the government's reformist laws, including a law to allow civilian courts to try military personnel. Appointed by Gul in October 2007, Kilic has advocated reform of the military-drafted constitution, which has been partly blamed for Turkey's chronic political instability. Kilic has also played a moderating role in a row between the AK Party and powerful judges and prosecutors. (Reporting by Zerin Elci, Pinar Aydinli and Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)