Dozens charged with Turkish coup plot

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Turkey's chief prosecutor today announced charges against 86 people accused of plotting to topple the government.

Aykut Cengiz Engin said the group, including at least one former general, journalists, academicians and businessmen, was charged either with forming or belonging to a terrorist organisation, or of provoking an armed uprising with the aim of bringing down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A court must now decide within two weeks whether to open a case against them.

The suspects allegedly planned to create chaos that would provoke a military coup and topple Mr Erdogan, whom they accuse of eroding Turkey's secular laws and making too many concessions to Christian and Kurdish minorities as part of the nation's bid to join the European Union.

The charging is seen as the latest episode in a power struggle between the government and secular groups supported by the military and other state institutions. They include the judiciary and some trade groups, who accuse the government of attempting to raise Islam's profile in Turkey.

Turkey's military, which staged three coups in the past, has criticised the government for allegedly eroding the secular system. But the top brass is believed to have appeased hawks within its ranks by occasionally issuing harsh statements against the government.

Without the backing of the military command, retired generals would have a very hard time staging a coup and such attempts in the past have always failed, analysts say.

The military has returned power to civilians after restoring order following coups.

But the alleged plots indicate dimensions of the uneasiness and animosity felt toward the current government. If the plots are confirmed, they come at a time that the government is spearheading efforts to strengthen democracy in Turkey in the hope of getting the country admitted to the EU.

The alleged coup plots are also being taken seriously because two previous army takeovers in Turkey, in 1960 and 1980, were preceded by periods of civil strife.

The 86 Turks were detained after police uncovered a cache of hand grenades at the house of a retired soldier in Istanbul last summer.

The investigation was deepened after Mr Erdogan vowed to crack down on shadowy "deep state" gangs - a network of renegade agents within the state, driven by hard-line nationalism, who may be taking the law into their own hands to target perceived enemies.

Three prosecutors have unveiled what they say is an intriguing net of ties between members of a secularist and nationalist group, called Ergenekon. It takes its name from a legendary plain in Central Asia, from where Turks are believed to have emerged.

The prosecutor accused the group of being behind 2006 attacks on Turkey's administrative court and the pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper, allegedly carried out by people impersonating Islamists. The attacks infuriated secularists and led to demonstrations against the government.

He said the current 2,455-page indictment also accuses suspects of possessing explosives and arms as well as obtaining classified documents and provoking military disobedience.

The prosecutor said an additional indictment is being prepared against a dozen other people, including two senior retired generals, who were arrested early this month for their alleged ties to the group.

In another court case, Mr Erdogan's government is facing possible closure by the Constitutional Court for alleged anti-secular activity. The country's prosecutor also wants Mr Erdogan and 70 other party members banned from joining a political party for five years.

This case results from the government's attempt to permit Islamic-style head scarves at universities. Last month, the Constitutional Court ruled that this violated Turkey's secular constitution.

Mr Erdogan's party, formed in 2001 by politicians who once belonged to Turkey's Islamic movement, has denied that it has an Islamic agenda.