Ankara angered by military's purge of fundamentalists

Thursday, January 16, 2003

ANKARA Turkey's new government has expressed opposition to a military purge of suspected Islamic fundamentalists.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul have complained that the military's purge of suspected Islamic officers is unconstitutional and must be reviewed.

A special council frequently reviews cases of officers suspected of having Islamic or leftist leanings, Middle East Newsline reported.

In December, the Supreme Military Council expelled several Turkish officers accused of being supporters of Islamic fundamentalism or of groups described as extremist. It was the first such meeting by the council under the new Islamic-oriented government led by Gul.

Gul upheld the dismissals by the council but expressed criticism of the process. Later, Deputy Prime Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir called on the council to open the process of expelling officers to judicial review.

Yalcinbayir said his appeal was not meant to criticize or defend extremism in the military. But he said those officers accused of being extremists have the right to a fair trial.

"The military has its own discipline and everybody should obey this discipline," Yalcinbayir said. "If a soldier is expelled from the military, we cannot deprive him of his right to apply to the court."

The criticism was the first issued by the new government. Civilian officials have rarely criticized or intervened in the affairs of the powerful military in Turkey.

Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok objected to the reservation expressed by Gul and Gonul over the dismissals in the military. Ozkok said the authority of the Supreme Military Council is defined by the constitution and that any such reservation could encourage what he termed extremists.

'This exceptional situation no doubt encouraged those members of the military who are involved in reactionary actions," Ozkok said on Wednesday.

Officials said the new government has succeeded in obtaining a civilian observer in proceedings by the Supreme Military Council. The observer attended a meeting of the council in late December in which six soldiers were expelled from the military.

But Gul quickly backed off from pursuing any dispute with military leaders. He said his government is occupied with the prospect of a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

"These issues are delicate, and I know when to talk about them," Gul said. "Now's not the time."

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