ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Four retired Turkish generals have been jailed pending trial in an inquiry into the removal of an Islamist-led government in 1997, days after the prime minister met a convicted general in an apparent step to mend relations with the army.
The detention of the four, on top of dozens of other officers arrested, widened extensive judicial investigations into the once-all powerful military, whose power has been sharply curtailed in the last decade.
The arrests were made even though Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has criticized lengthy pre-trial detentions of hundreds of military officers on conspiracy charges, hinting that he is seeking to rebuild bridges with the military.
Over the last couple of weeks he has also criticized the charging of a former chief of staff as a terrorist group member and visited in hospital an ailing general among those convicted of conspiring against him.
In February 1997 the military-dominated National Security Council issued a stern warning to Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who pioneered Islamist politics in Turkey, accusing his government of policies undermining the secular constitution.
Commentators dubbed the episode Turkey’s “post-modern coup” as the generals used pressure behind the scenes to force Erbakan to resign four months later, rather than the direct intervention employed in three outright coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
The state-run Anatolian news agency said the officers detained overnight included a full general, an admiral, a lieutenant general and a vice-admiral.
Another six retired officers were called in for questioning at the Ankara prosecutor’s office on Thursday, Anatolian said.
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan’s AK Party, among whose founders were members of Erbakan’s outlawed Welfare Party, has sharply reduced the influence of the military, which has also been targeted by coup conspiracy trials.
More than 300 military officers were sentenced to jail in September for plotting to overthrow Erdogan in 2003. Nearly 300 other people - including politicians, academics, journalists and retired army officers - are on trial on charges of orchestrating political violence.
Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mark Heinrich