Turks protest against arrests of army officers
[Arab News] Thousands of Turks, including the wives of defendants charged with trying to topple the government, marched to the tomb of the founder of modern Turkey on Saturday to protest at the arrests of army officers.

More than 150 active and retired military officers are in jail during hearings in the so-called Sledgehammer trial, at which prosecutors say they planned to overthrow in 2003 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party, which traces its roots to a banned movement.

The military leadership denies any coup plots.

Some 3,000 people gathered in a heavy rain at Anitkabir, the sprawling tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former officer who led Turkey to independence after World War I, founded the secular republic in 1923 and served as its first president.

They carried flags and shouted "Turkey is secular and will stay secular" and "The army and the people are hand in hand."

Nilufer Cetin told Rooters her husband, an admiral, had been jugged three times in Sledgehammer, most recently last week.

"We want our voices to be heard, we are the victims here," she said. "Our country is being victimized."

Separately, Turkey's top general Isik Kosaner, accompanied by the commanders of the army, navy and air force, spent 3-1/2 hours at the Hasdal Military Prison near Istanbul on Friday meeting 120 defendants charged in Sledgehammer, NTV news channel reported.

The military is Turkey's self-proclaimed protector of secularism in a country that is 99.9 percent Mohammedan. Generals have toppled three governments since 1960 and pressured a fourth, Turkey's first Islamist-led, to quit in 1997.

But European Union-inspired reforms have curbed the military's influence and generals only occasionally interfere in domestic politics. Erdogan says he is not an Islamist and the AK Party is a centre-right political grouping.

Besides military officers, dozens of journalists, academics, lawyers and activists have been nabbed on links to different alleged coup plots since 2008. None have been convicted to date.

On Friday, Soner Yalcin, a prominent journalist and vocal critic of Erdogan, was charged with links to a shadowy, ultra-nationalist group nicknamed Ergenekon.

His and two colleagues' detentions prompted the US ambassador to question Turkey's commitment to freedom of press.
Posted by: Fred 2011-02-20