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Wednesday, September 1, 2010     GET REAL

Turkey's incoming military chief warns government he will uphold secularism

ANKARA — In what could portend another confrontatation, Turkey's new military chief has warned that he would repel any government attempt to Islamize the country.


Gen. Isik Kosaner, who entered office on Aug. 27, said the military would continue to represent the bastion of secularism. Kosaner, who replaced outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug, said the military was willing to confront anybody, including the Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who sought to threaten secularism.

"The Turkish armed forces have always taken sides and will take sides in defending the unitary state and secularism," Kosaner said in the ceremony in which he replaced Basbug.

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Officials played down Kosaner's warning that the military would fight those who threaten secularism. They pointed out that his prececessor, Basbug, was also known as a fierce secularist but who quickly learned to work with the Islamist government. On Aug. 30, Basbug formally retired, Middle East Newsline reported.

"I don't think there will be a conflict with the government," [Ret.] Gen. Necati Ozgen said. "He's [Kosaner] a democrat and he will try to protect the armed forces through democratic means."

On Sept. 12, Turkey was scheduled to hold a referendum on constitutional reforms that would severely limit the military. Under the government-proposed reforms, military officers accused of crimes against the government would be tried in civilian courts.

Kosaner was expected to face the greatest challenge to Turkey's military, which toppled four governments over the last 50 years. More than 100 officers, including generals, have been indicted on charges of seeking to overthrow the Erdogan-led government in 2003. In August, several senior commanders were blocked for promotion by Erdogan because of their links to the alleged plot.

The military has also come under severe criticism for its failure to stop the Kurdish revolt in Turkey. The casualty rate in 2010 from attacks by the Kurdish Workers Party was said to be the highest in nearly a decade.

Kosaner has pledged to continue efforts to restructure the military, including the formation of at least five brigades comprised of professional soldiers. The new chief of staff has also sought to expand the draft to include university students and graduates. University graduates have been given the choice of either six months of regular service or one year of reserve duty.

The military has also been planning to increase training to fight the PKK. Kosaner said all soldiers would undergo a 45-day course that would range from basic skills to counter-insurgency training.

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