Erdogan criticizes pre-trial detention of military officers

Updated 28 January 2013
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Erdogan criticizes pre-trial detention of military officers

ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has criticized the lengthy pre-trial detention of hundreds of military officers, suggesting it was sapping army morale just as Ankara vows to keep up pressure on Kurdish militants.
During his 10 years in power, Erdogan, whose party has moderate Islamist roots, has brought to heel the once all-powerful armed forces, which see themselves as guardians of secularism and regularly intervened in politics and carried out coups in previous decades.
Hundreds of serving and retired officers, including 20 percent of military generals, have been jailed pending trial since 2005 on conspiracy charges and plotting to overthrow the government.
But as initial public support for the investigations dwindles, with critics and even sympathisers saying cases have spiralled out of control, Erdogan has distanced himself from the trials.
“There are now close to 400 retired and serving officers inside. The most serious are accused of forming organizations or belonging to one. If the provisions for these are certain, then finish the job,” Erdogan said late on Friday.
“But if there isn’t certainty, then the hundreds of officers should be treated accordingly. This disrupts the entire morale of the Turkish armed forces. How can these people then fight terror?” he said in an interview with Turkish television.
While Erdogan has received praise for bringing the military under civilian control, the years defendants are spending in prison without conviction has raised fears the trials are a political witch hunt aimed at silencing opposition.
The first large-scale convictions came last September after a 21-month trial when more than 300 officers were handed prison sentences for plotting to topple Erdogan’s government almost a decade ago. Hundreds more are still in jail awaiting trial.
Around 100 journalists are also in prison, as well as thousands of activists, lawyers, politicians and others. Most are accused of plotting against the government or supporting outlawed Kurdish militants.
Parliament voted to abolish the special courts used in coup conspiracy cases last July after Erdogan criticized prosecutors for acting as if they were “a different power within the state.”
But the end of the special courts, established by Erdogan’s government in 2005, will not affect existing prosecutions of the hundreds of military officers already in jail.
Erdogan’s latest comments also come after one of the most violent summers in three decades, with security forces locked in almost daily battles with militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and at a time of heightened tension with Syria.
Turkey has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s fiercest critics and has seen violence from the war in its southern neighbor spill into its own territory. While Ankara does not want to get sucked further into the conflict, it has threatened cross-border military action if needed.
Turkey’s conscript army is the second largest in NATO.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union, took up arms in 1984 and more than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed since then.
The state-run Anatolian news agency reported on Saturday the military killed more than 1,500 “terrorists” inside and outside Turkey last year, citing the country’s general staff. Turkish warplanes regularly launch air strikes on PKK targets in northern Iraq, where the guerrillas have bases.
Reuters could not independently verify the militant death tolls and Turkey’s military rarely talks to the media.
Security forces, including army and police, have taken heavy casualties over the past year with PKK militants stepping up attacks on convoys and outposts.
Hopes of an end to the conflict grew, however, after the government acknowledged state intelligence officials were talking to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
While backing moves toward peace, Erdogan has vowed military operations will continue until the PKK disarms, a stance Kurdish politicians say undermines efforts to build trust.


Turkey’s Erdogan may seek coalition if AK Party fails to get majority

Updated 33 min 25 sec ago
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Turkey’s Erdogan may seek coalition if AK Party fails to get majority

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his ruling AK Party could seek to form a coalition if it fails to secure a parliamentary majority in Sunday’s elections, but said the prospect of this is “very, very low.”
Polls indicate the elections may be closer than anticipated when he called the snap elections in April, suggesting he may be pushed to a second-round run-off for the presidency, and his AKP could lose its majority in the 600-seat assembly.
“If it is under 300 (seats), then there could be a search for a coalition,” Erdogan said in an interview with the Kral FM radio station late on Wednesday.
He added that the probability of this was “very, very low.”
The Turkish lira, which has slumped more than 20 percent against the dollar this year, has extended losses over the last week on concern about the prospect of political uncertainty following the elections.
Investors fear political deadlock if the AK Party loses its majority in parliament as it would put a brake on Erdogan’s ability to exercise the powers of the new presidential system.
The AKP formed an alliance with the nationalist MHP before the elections, which will herald a switch to a new powerful executive presidency narrowly approved in a referendum last year.
Opposition parties also formed an alliance, which excluded the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). If the HDP exceeds the 10 percent threshold of votes needed to enter parliament, it will be harder for the AKP to achieve a majority.
Under the constitutional changes going into effect after the elections, the number of lawmakers in parliament will increase to 600 from 550 currently.
The AKP has held a majority in parliament for nearly all its 15 years in power, only losing it in the June 2015 election. After parties failed to form a coalition then, Erdogan called a fresh election in November which restored the AKP majority.
MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said on Monday another election could be held if his alliance with the AKP cannot form a majority in parliament after Sunday’s vote.