Two retired four-star generals, prominent journalists and businessmen will go on trial Monday in a highly controversial investigation into an alleged plot to topple Turkey's Islamist-rooted government. The retired generals are accused of being the masterminds and leaders of a plot to oust the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate offshoot of a now banned Islamist movement, after it came to power in 2002.
The investigation, which began with the discovery of hand grenades in an Istanbul house in June 2007, has fanned political tensions in Turkey and further polarised AKP supporters and secularists. Critics say the government is using the probe as a means to bully and silence opponents and discredit the Turkish army, a staunch defender of the country's secular system, which the AKP is accused of undermining.
Sener Eruygur, former commander of the paramilitary gendarmerie forces, and Hursit Tolon, former army commander, risk life sentences if convicted. The 1,909-page charge sheet says the two "began implementing the coup plans they drew up in 2003-2004 while in office and continued their activities after they retired." Coup allegations first surfaced in March 2007 when a magazine published excerpts from the purported diary of the former navy chief, which described how Eruygur and several other generals plotted coups.
According to the media, Eruygur and Tolon allegedly dropped their plans initially after failing to secure the support of top commanders. Following retirement, the indictment says, the suspects used civic groups to incite public opinion against the AKP in line with their aims. Eruygur was the head of a secularist association that led mass rallies against the AKP in 2007 to prevent Abdullah Gul ? a former Islamist ? from becoming Turkey's president.
Eruygur and Tolon are accused of being senior leaders of Ergenekon, a nationalist-secularist network, which allegedly had a broad plan to plunge Turkey into political chaos, including the assassination of prominent figures, discredit the AKP and pave the way for a military coup. They will go on trial along with 54 other suspects, charged in the same indictment, the second to emerge from the long-running probe into Ergenekon.
Eighty-six suspects already went on trial in October. Also to appear before court Monday are senior journalists Mustafa Balbay, whose alleged diary mentions purported coup plots, and Tuncay Ozkan. Both are known as vocal government critics. Other prominent suspects are Sinan Aygun, head of the Ankara Trade Chamber, and the wife of a senior judge from the Constitutional Court, which last year punished the AKP with huge financial sanctions for breaching Turkey's secular principles.
The Ergenekon probe was initially hailed as a success for targeting the so-called "deep state" ? a term used to describe officials acting outside the law, often in collusion with the underworld, to protect what they see as Turkey's best interests. But its credibility came under question after prosecutors began to target academics, writers and journalists known as AKP critics. The investigators have come under fire also for predawn police raids on suspect houses and systematic leaking of information concerning the probe to pro-government media, some of which have correctly predicted who the police would arrest next.
More recently, several suspects have claimed they never owned the documents implicating them in the affair, accusing the government-controlled police of fabricating evidence. * AP