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Turkey appoints military chiefs

Gen Necdet Ozel had been chosen as Turkey's chief of general staff, subject to approval by the cabinet, presidential spokesman Ahmet Sever said.


ISTANBUL // Turkey's new top military officers were announced yesterday, six days after the former general staff resigned. But further changes might be needed to make tighter civilian oversight of the military permanent, analysts said

Gen Necdet Ozel had been chosen as the new chief of general staff, subject to approval by the cabinet, Presidential spokesman Ahmet Sever said. Approval is seen as a formality and Gen Ozel is expected to serve until 2015.

The fact that Mr Sever made the announcement and not the general staff, as had been the custom, was "a new step in the change towards civilian rule", the Haberturk newspaper said in its online edition yesterday.

"There cannot be two mayors in one village," Bulent Arinc, a deputy prime minister, was quoted by newspapers yesterday as saying about the power shift.

Abdullah Gul, the president, approved the decisions taken during a three-day meeting of government and military leaders in the High Military Council, or YAS.

Afterwards, Mr Sever said in televised remarks that Gen Hayri Kivrikoglu has been appointed land forces commander; Adm Emin Murat Bilgel was picked to be navy chief; Gen Mehmet Erten was named air force commander; and Gen Bekir Kalyoncu became chief of the paramilitary gendarmerie forces.

In a compromise with the military, the government agreed to freeze the careers of 14 generals who have been in custody for their suspected involvement in coup attempt against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister. Before the YAS meeting, the military demanded that the generals could be promoted, but the government said the generals should be sent into early retirement. The row was a key factor that led to the resignation of the former general staff.
"The military pretty much had its claws pulled out," Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Milliyet daily, said in a telephone interview yesterday. The resignation of the generals marked the beginning of a new period, she wrote in her column yesterday: "The First Republic is over, we have entered the era of the Second Republic."

In the interview, she stressed that the public in Turkey did not see a political role for the military any more. "That is the flow of history. The river is flowing in one direction only," she said.

Referring to events in the Middle East, Aydintasbas added: "The military can come back when Mubarak can come back", referring to Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president who was forced to resign and is now on trial on corruption and other charges.

Having pushed out four governments in the last 50 years, the Turkish military enjoyed a powerful political position. Unlike in other western-style democracies, civilian governments in Turkey have had little say about promotions in the military or the budget of the armed forces.

Change started after Mr Erdogan's religiously conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in late 2002. In a series of reforms designed to improve Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union, the military's political influence was reduced. The generals' position was weakened further by judicial investigations into suspected plots by officers to topple or destabilise the government. This week a colonel who worked in the general staff headquarters in Ankara confirmed in court that the military had launched several websites that published anti-government propaganda.

After consolidating his power with a June election victory with almost 50 per cent of the vote for the AKP, Mr Erdogan openly defied key demands of the military and pushed the general staff into resignation. In a symbol of change, it was Mr Erdogan alone who presided over the YAS session this week, ending a tradition that the prime minister and the chief of general staff lead the conference together.

Yavuz Baydar, a columnist with the Sabah daily, said the generals had run out of options. "Institutionally, the Turkish military has found itself at the point of no return," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Turkey is becoming a normal country." Baydar predicted that the power shift would make the discussion about a new constitution for Turkey easier.

Koray Ozdil, an analyst at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, a think tank in Istanbul, said that while it would be very difficult for the military to get some of its political powers back, structural changes were needed to make the changes irreversible.

"The military establishment has always stuck to its self-defined role of guardianship" over the republic, he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

An increase of parliamentary control over the military budget and military actions would be one of the ways to strengthen civilian oversight over the armed forces, he said

According to news reports, the government is preparing legislation forbidding political comments by the general staff.



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