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(Updates with Gul comment in sixth paragraph, Evren case in seventh, Basbug comment in 10th.)
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Turkey jailed former Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug in connection with alleged plots to topple the government, making him the highest-ranking officer implicated in a four-year probe.
Basbug was taken to Silivri jail, west of Istanbul, after a court in the city ruled that he should be held pending trial, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. Basbug denied the charges, calling them “tragi-comic,” and his lawyer Ilkay Sezer said he will appeal the court’s decision.
Basbug’s arrest is the latest expansion of an investigation into plots to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose roots in Islamist movements put him at odds with the secularism of the military. More than 250 officers have been jailed, and legislation to enforce civilian control over the army has weakened an institution that has forced four elected governments from office since 1960.
Basbug testified for seven hours in Istanbul yesterday, answering questions about his knowledge of websites allegedly created to spread propaganda against Erdogan. After his deposition, special prosecutor Cihan Kansiz asked the court to arrest him on charges of commanding a “terrorist organization” and seeking to overthrow the government using force and violence, Anatolia said.
Erdogan’s supporters say the probes are making Turkey more democratic by exposing secret plots against elected governments. The army staged full-scale coups in 1960 and 1980 and ousted two other governments in 1971 and 1997, the latter headed by Erdogan’s political mentor, Necmettin Erbakan.
Earlier this week, prosecutors in Ankara requested life imprisonment for another former military chief, 94-year-old Kenan Evren, who became president after leading the 1980 army takeover. Erdogan’s party amended the constitution last year to lift immunity from prosecution for those involved in the coup.
Critics including the main opposition Republican People’s Party say they are a way of targeting opponents of the government. Scores of journalists, politicians and academics have also been jailed on the grounds they were involved in the plots.
“We are witness to a judicial process under the rule of law,” President Abdullah Gul was quoted by Zaman newspaper as saying today. “In a state ruled by laws, everyone is accountable.”
Army officers have given conflicting evidence about Basbug, Hurriyet newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information. Some implicated him, saying he was aware of plans to set up websites against Erdogan, while another officer testified that approval for the plans to fight Islamist threats came from a subordinate general, according to Hurriyet.
Basbug told the court he was being accused of trying to bring down the government “with a couple of press statements and one or two Internet stories,” according to Hurriyet. “If I had such bad intentions, as the commander of a 700,000-strong force, there would have been other ways,” he said.
--With assistance from Benjamin Harvey in Istanbul. Editors: Ben Holland, Eddie Buckle.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ali Berat Meric in Ankara at email@example.com; Emre Peker in Ankara at firstname.lastname@example.org
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