March 1, 2010 / 10:47 AM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 4-Two new officers charged in Turkey, but jitters ease

* More than 30 officers face charges over alleged plot

* Markets gain as rate of detentions appears to ease

* PM says he will unveil constitutional reforms soon

* Army prosecutors investigating separate alleged coup plot (Adds military statement on separate investigation)

By Thomas Grove

ISTANBUL, March 1 (Reuters) - Two military officers were charged at the weekend over a coup plot, Turkish media said on Monday, but investor jitters over a showdown between the secular armed forces and Islamist-rooted government appeared to ease.

A total of more than 30 officers, including two retired generals, face charges in connection with an alleged plot in 2003 to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The detention of senior members of the armed forces has shaken financial markets in a country where the military has a long history of intervention in politics.

But on Monday, the lira currency, stocks and bonds rose as investors said the rate of detentions appeared to have slowed.

“The tensions have eased at least for now, but investors are still going to stay away a little longer and try to evaluate what is going to happen, because nothing is clear,” said Ayse Colak, an analyst at Tera Brokers.

A Muslim country with a secular constitution, NATO-member Turkey wants to strengthen its democratic credentials to support its bid to join the European Union, but the crackdown on the military has turned a spotlight on lingering domestic divisions.

The state-run news agency Anatolian said Colonel Huseyin Ozcoban, commander of the paramilitary gendarmerie force in the city of Konya, and Lieutenant Colonel Yusuf Kelleli were charged late on Sunday in an Istanbul court.

They were detained last week in an unprecedented investigation that prompted an emergency meeting of political and military leaders.

Erdogan held talks with Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug, moving up regular weekly consultations which usually take place on Thursday. Last Thursday, they and President Abdullah Gul met in an attempt to defuse tension over the coup investigation.

HISTORY OF COUPS

The military has overthrown four governments in Turkey since 1960, but its power has diminished amid EU-inspired reforms.

Despite Turkey’s history of coups, most people believe the generals would not dare challenge the AK Party, which has a huge parliamentary majority or jeopardise the country’s new-found confidence in democracy by intervening again.

The latest arrests follow a series of earlier probes that began in early 2008 and have implicated army officers. Nearly 200 people, including retired generals, academics, journalists and lawyers, are on trial in the so-called Ergenekon case, accused of trying to topple Erdogan’s government.

The General Staff said on Monday army prosecutors had sought the arrest of Colonel Dursun Cicek, linked to another suspected conspiracy against the government, but a military court on Monday rejected their request.

In June, the prosecutors had said there was insufficient evidence to charge Cicek, whose signature allegedly appeared on a document outlining a plan to destabilise the government.

Since then, army investigators have discovered evidence that could authenticate Cicek’s signature, according to the statement on the General Staff website. It did not elaborate on the court ruling against his arrest but said the investigation continued.

Analysts say politics appear to be increasingly polarised between secular, conservative nationalists who represent the old guard and the AK Party, which has won over investors with market-friendly reforms despite its roots in political Islam.

The risk of a confrontation emerged last month when the government threatened to call a referendum to push through constitutional changes to curb the power of judges, after the judicial establishment objected to the detention of a prosecutor accused of belonging to an ultra-rightist militant organisation.

A court accepted an indictment against that prosecutor, Turkish media reported on Monday, opening the way for his trial.

Erdogan said on Sunday he would present proposed constitutional reforms to parliament as soon as possible.

With Turkey increasingly polarised, constitutional reforms are seen as a possible flashpoint.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said he saw strong support in parliament and now was a suitable time to amend the constitution.

The AK Party, which has 337 lawmakers in the 550-seat assembly, will seek a third term at elections due by July 2011, and Erdogan has denied speculation of an early vote.

After recession last year, the ruling party hopes a nascent economic recovery will bolster its popularity before the poll. (Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Noah Barkin)

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