ISTANBUL // Istanbul's chief prosecutor said yesterday that two investigators had been removed from the inquiry into an alleged 2003 plot to topple Turkey's Islamic-rooted government and orders for a new wave of arrests scrapped. The chief prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said the two had been given a "change of duties" while "the [arrest] operations have been suspended as the newly assigned prosecutors need some time to study the files."
The two prosecutors had reportedly issued arrest warrants for some 90 new suspects on Monday without seeking approval from their superiors as required. There were conflicting reports on how many were detained on Monday before the operation was halted, with newspapers putting the figure between 14 and 20. Clashes between judicial officials have become frequent in recent months amid a series of controversial investigations into alleged plots to destabilise or unseat the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The investigation into the coup plan - the toughest action ever against the influential Turkish army - began in February when dozens of serving and retired officers were arrested, among them the former navy and air force chiefs. Opponents have accused the government of using the investigation to discredit the staunchly-secularist army, while supporters have hailed it as a milestone in pushing the generals out of politics and improving Turkish democracy.
The coup plan was allegedly drawn up shortly after the AKP, a moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist party, came to power in November 2002 amid fears it would undermine Turkey's secular system. It reportedly involved plans to bomb mosques and provoke tensions with Greece, thus sparking political chaos and justifying a military takeover. Police had initially detained some 70 serving and retired officers and about 40 of them were charged and jailed, pending trial.
Most were later released by a judge who cited "lack of a strong suspicion" that the suspects had committed the alleged crime. But in a fresh twist on Sunday, prosecutors secured a court order to put 21 suspects back in prison, including the alleged ringleader, the retired four-star general, Cetin Dogan. The plot was first reported in January by the Taraf newspaper, which routinely targets the army. The daily said it had obtained documents and audio tapes indicating that a coup was planned and discussed at the Istanbul-based First Army.
Gen Dogan - the commander of the First Army at the time - has denied the charges, arguing that papers from a contingency plan based on a scenario of domestic unrest had been doctored to look like a coup plot. * Agence France-Presse