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.


Speculation mounts over Abdullah Gul’s election ambitions

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gul, left, is seen with Saadet Party leader Temel Karamollaoglu during a ceremony in Istanbul on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Speculation mounts over Abdullah Gul’s election ambitions

  • Gul and Erdogan have mostly followed the same political paths and a religiously conservative ideology
  • A split between the two men recently erupted when Gul criticized the controversial state of emergency decree law

 ANKARA: Rumors are rife in Turkey that former President Abdullah Gul could emerge as a possible contender against his once close political ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the June elections.

Gul, who along with Erdogan was among the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, has met with opposition leaders amid speculation he could run as a presidential candidate for the main opposition alliance.

Erdogan called the snap election, which will select the president and Parliament members, last week, catching opposition parties off guard. 

Gul and Erdogan have mostly followed the same political paths and a religiously conservative ideology.

However, Gul, who served as Turkey’s president from 2007 to 2014, has increasingly criticized Erdogan’s handling of the aftermath of an attempted coup in 2016. 

A split between the two men recently erupted when Gul criticized the controversial state of emergency decree law that exempted civilians who fought against the coup attempt in 2016 from criminal liability. 

Slams Erdogan

He also openly slammed the repeated extension of the state of emergency in Turkey, which has been in place since the coup, and called for normalization in the country.

With his conciliatory approach to politics and leadership in the rapprochement process with Armenia and the Kurds in Turkey, Gul was widely respected by the international community as president.

Asked about speculation on Gul’s candidacy, Erdogan said on Tuesday: “I don’t have a problem with that.”

“Alliances with the sole motivation of hostility toward Erdogan are being formed,” he added. 

If nominated by the opposition camp, Gul is expected to announce a manifesto that promises a return to the parliamentary system by abolishing the executive presidential changes to the constitution approved by a controversial referendum last year. 

He is also said to be announcing a new constitutional draft and suggesting an alternative council of ministers focused on improving the Turkish economy.

The deadline to submit applications for the presidential candidacy is May 4.

Gul held talks with the leader of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), Temel Karamollaoglu, on Wednesday and met former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara a day earlier, according to Turkey’s pro-government daily Haber Turk.

Other opposition figures are also meeting to discuss alliances for the election on June 24. Karamollaoglu met Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Meral Aksener, who heads the right-wing nationalist Good Party (Iyi Parti).

Electoral opportunity

Kilicdaroglu has described the upcoming elections as an opportunity to salvage the country from what the opposition claims is Erdogan’s increasingly draconian rule. 

“Abdullah Gul’s name is not on the CHP agenda,” said Ozgur Ozel, parliamentary group leader of CHP. But the SP still insists on his candidacy. 

According to experts, for the other candidates to surpass Erdogan they will need the votes of all the other opposition parties and some of the AKP constituencies.

Polls show that Erdogan, who has dominated the top rungs of power in the country for more than 15 years, enjoys about 50 percent of voter support. 

“This means that a candidate would need to appeal to Turkish nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, Islamists and secularists in order to get more votes than Erdogan who has a much more solid base,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News. 

Gul appears to be the best alternative in this regard, experts said.

However, the decision by the newly founded Iyi Party on whether they would join other opposition parties to nominate Gul as the opposition block candidate would be critical. 

If Erdogan does not win the presidency in the first round of voting — by securing at least 50 percent plus one vote — then a second round will be held within two weeks. 

If the race is between more than two candidates, Erdogan would win the presidency again, said Dr. Emre Erdogan, co-founder of an Istanbul-based research company, Infakto Research Workshop.

“Hence, the calculus of Gul’s move is simple: Exchanging mid-to-long-term uncertain gains, with certain short-term victories, namely being the next president of Turkey,” he told Arab News.

Nominating conservative Gul will cost the CHP some ultra-secular votes, but considering the discipline of its voters, the price will be minuscule and easily compensated by Kurdish voters who favor Gul, Dr. Emre Erdogan said.

“Among all alternative scenarios, only the nomination of Gul seems to be the one with the highest potential to influence the outcome,” he said.