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Turmoil in Turkey: Secularist military vs. government rooted in Islamist sensibility

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Turkey faced turmoil within its military on Saturday after the country’s four most senior commanders quit in protest over the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The military police chief of the country was named acting chief-of-staff and the commander of land forces late Friday, in a quick move to contain the crisis.

“The president has approved the assignment of military police chief General Necdet Ozel as the land forces commander. General Ozel is deployed as acting chief-of-staff,” it said in a statement.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, commander-in-chief under the constitution met with Mr. Erdogan and General Ozel on Friday evening, leading analysts to speculate that General Ozel was likely to become the new chief-of-staff.

According to previous army practice, an officer should serve as commander of land forces before becoming chief-of-staff, media reports said.

Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner stepped down on Friday evening along with the army, navy and air force commanders, plunging NATO’s second largest armed forces into uncertainty shortly before a senior promotions board convenes.

General Kosaner stepped down after several meetings with Mr. Erdogan in recent days ahead of an early August meeting of the army’s high command, which decides on promotions for senior officers.

Media reports blamed tensions between the military and Mr. Erdogan over army demands for the promotion of dozens of officers being held on suspicion of involvement in an alleged anti-government plot.

In a farewell message to “brothers in arms,” General Kosaner said it was impossible to continue in his job as he could not defend the rights of men who had been detained as a consequence of a flawed judicial process.

Relations between the secularist military and Mr. Erdogan’s socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first won power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK’s Islamist roots.

“Four-star earthquake,” a headline in Sabah newspaper said of the generals’ decision, while papers also highlighted General Kosaner’s criticism of media reporting on the military.

“They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces was a criminal organization and ... the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations,” General Kosaner’s statement said.

Forty-two generals and dozens of officers are currently in jail in a probe of alleged plots to unseat the government.

(Sara Ghasemilee, Day Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: sara.ghasemilee@mbc.net)