Saturday, January 14, 2012

Turkish former army chief appeals against detention (Reuters)

ANKARA (Reuters) ? A lawyer for the former head of Turkey's armed forces, General Ilker Basbug, appealed on Thursday against his detention on charges of trying to overthrow the government, state news agency Anatolian said.

Basbug, military chief of staff from 2008 to 2010, was sent to a high-security prison outside Istanbul last week after a court ordered he be remanded in custody while prosecutors completed their investigation and prepared formal charges.

Basbug is the most senior officer to be caught up in court cases involving alleged plots against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government in what some see as a major step toward democratic reform in the European Union candidate.

Military chiefs were once regarded as the most powerful men in Turkey after decades of coups before Erdogan's government took charge in 2002 and reduced the influence of the generals.

Basbug's lawyer, Ilkay Sezer, told Reuters last week his client should be tried in the Supreme Court if he is charged. He has called the charges "beyond comprehension."

The secularist military has always had a tense relationship with the ruling AK party due to the party's Islamist roots, although the party shuns the Islamist label and describes itself as socially conservative.

President Abdullah Gul, a former AK prime minister and foreign minister, said that Turkey's highest court should try Basbug.

"My personal opinion is that Supreme Court (should hear the case)," Gul told reporters Thursday. "But at the end of the day it's a technical issue."

The case against Basbug, linked to an alleged ultra-nationalist network called "Ergenekon," centers on websites that spread propaganda against Erdogan's government that the military was accused of running until 2008.

Hundreds of people have been jailed in the investigation, including journalists, academics, lawyers and military officers in what is seen by some as a crackdown on secularist critics of the government.

In a report this week, the Council of Europe human rights body criticized Turkey's legal system for inadequate protection of defendants and its years-long pretrial detentions and sweeping antiterrorism laws.

(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Louise Ireland)


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