Turkey rounds up secularists over coup claim


July 03, 2008

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the detentions were linked to the investigation into Ergenekon, a shadowy hardline secularist group suspected of planning bombings and assassinations calculated to trigger an army takeover.

"It is not the AK party they cannot tolerate - what they can't tolerate is democracy, the national will, the people's feelings and thoughts," Mr Erdogan said.

Ankara police said 24 people had been detained, but the prosecutor's office later told the Anatolian state news agency 21 were in detention and three more were being sought.

Among those detained were prominent retired generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur, the former chief of paramilitary police and head of a powerful secularist association. The Milliyet daily said a retired brigadier general and a retired vice-admiral had also been detained.

"These are prominent people and their common point is their loyalty to secularism. The Government wants to turn society into an empire of fear," said Mustafa Ozyurek, a politician in the main opposition party CHP.

Ankara Chamber of Commerce chairman Sinan Aygun and the Ankara representative of the Cumhuriyet newspaper were also detained. ......

Analysts say Ergenekon is part of the shadowy "deep state" - hardline nationalists in Turkey's security forces and state bureaucracy who are ready to take the law into their own hands for the sake of the secularist agenda.

More than 40 people, including a retired general, lawyers and politicians have been arrested over the past year for suspected links to Ergenekon. The military, which has repeatedly criticised the Government, has denied any links to the group.

Half of those detained were members of the powerful Kemalist Thought Association (ADD), a group promoting the principles of modern Turkey's founder. ADD helped call millions of Turks on to the streets to protest against the election of former foreign minister Abdullah Gul as president last year, sparking an early election.

Shortly after the detentions, Turkey's chief prosecutor outlined the case in the Constitutional Court to close the AK party, re-elected last year.