Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Turkey Curtails Military's Clout in Politics

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Turkey Curtails Military's Clout in Politics

Article excerpt

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's Islamic-rooted government has scored two victories in its quest to end the military's decades-long influence over politics.

This week, it sent one of the country's most powerful generals to jail for leading efforts to force the resignation of the country's first Islamist prime minister. Earlier in the month, it put two leaders of a 1980 military coup on trial.

It's all part of a drive by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to project to the world an image that Turkey, struggling to keep alive its European Union dreams, has definitively buried its authoritarian past. At the same time, his government's actions raise questions about whether Turkey, in cracking down on a military seen as a guarantor of secularist ideals, is tilting toward a different form of Islamist authoritarianism.

Mr. Erdogan, enjoying broad support in his third consecutive term, denies allegations by the main pro-secular opposition party that his government is seeking "revenge" on generals who have ousted four governments since 1960 -- mostly in reaction to suspected moves to raise Islam's profile in society.

But Mr. Erdogan and his Cabinet members made triumphant speeches after a court jailed retired Gen. Cevik Bir along with several other former military officers over their role in ousting late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.

Mr. Erbakan had drawn the ire of the generals for allegedly seeking to allow civil servants to wear Islamic-style clothing and change work hours to suit religious fasting. On Feb. 28, 1997, the National Security Council -- dominated by generals -- threatened action if Mr. Erbakan didn't back down; he resigned four months later.

"Even if it has been a mere 15 years and not a thousand, today Feb. 28 is on the defendant's chair," said Mr. Erdogan in an address to Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr. Erdogan -- basking in economic success and rising diplomatic stature -- is confidently calling for a new constitution enshrining greater democracy, overturning a military-imposed charter that took effect after the 1980 coup. …

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