- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) | Prosecutors on Monday indicted 86 secular Turks - including high-ranking ex-military officials - on terrorism charges for their purported involvement in plots to topple the Islamic-rooted government.

The suspects, believed to include at least one former general and an opposition politician, are accused of plotting to provoke a military coup to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said.

They face charges of forming or belonging to a terrorist organization, or of provoking an armed uprising with the aim of bringing down the Erdogan government, he said. A court has two weeks to decide whether to try the suspects.

The indictment is the latest episode in an ongoing power struggle between the Islamic-rooted government and nationalists seeking to defend the secularism established by modern Turkey’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Secularists - backed by the military, judiciary and some trade groups - accuse Mr. Erdogan and his government of seeking to push an Islamist agenda and making too many concessions to Christian and Kurdish minorities as part of the nation’s bid to join the European Union.

Mr. Erdogan’s opponents say the charges are part of a government attempt to silence critics.

“This is a campaign to defame people who speak against the government,” said Onur Oymen, a member of the secular opposition Republican Peoples’ Party.

Mr. Erdogan’s government, meanwhile, may be banned by the Constitutional Court for seeking to permit Islamic-style head scarves at universities - a move the court says violates Turkey’s constitution enshrining secularism.

Turkey’s chief prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, also wants Mr. Erdogan and 70 members of his Justice and Development Party banned from all political activities for five years. Mr. Erdogan’s party, formed in 2001 by politicians who once belonged to Turkey’s Islamic movement, denies it has an Islamist agenda.

Mr. Engin, the Istanbul prosecutor, did not name those charged but said the suspects - who include ex-army officers, lawyers, the leader of a small leftist and nationalist political party and an author critical of Mr. Erdogan - were detained after police uncovered a cache of hand grenades at the Istanbul home of a retired, noncommissioned officer last year.

Forty-eight suspects have been jailed.

Prosecutors revealed what they called a net of ties among members of a secularist and nationalist group called Ergenekon - named after a legendary valley in Central Asia that Turks are believed to have emerged from.

Prosecutors accused the group of being behind 2006 attacks on Turkey’s administrative court and the pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper, purportedly carried out by people impersonating Islamists. The attacks infuriated secularists and led to demonstrations against the government.

The prosecutor said an additional indictment is being prepared against a dozen other people, including two senior retired generals arrested earlier this month for their suspected ties to the group.

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