Turkey's military in turmoil as top brass quit

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Turkey faced turmoil within its military on Saturday after the country's four most senior commanders quit, offering Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan an opportunity to extend his authority over the once dominant armed forces.

Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner stepped down last night along with the army, navy and air force commanders in protest over the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against Erdogan's government.



In a farewell message to "brothers in arms", Kosaner said it was impossible to continue in his job as he could not defend the rights of men who had been detained as a consequence of a flawed judicial process.



Relations between the secularist military and Erdogan's socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first won power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK's Islamist roots.



Though the departures are embarrassing, they could give Erdogan a decisive victory over a military that sees itself as guardian of the secularist state envisioned by the soldier statesman and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.



Analysts see little political threat to Erdogan's supremacy.



AK won a third consecutive term, taking 50 per cent of the vote in a parliamentary election in June.



Erdogan marked out Kosaner's successor yesterday, as his office put out a statement naming paramilitary Gendarmerie commander General Necdet Ozel as new head of land forces, and acting deputy chief of general staff, effectively making him next in line when Kosaner handed over the baton.



In years gone by, Turkey's generals were more likely to seize power than quit. They have staged three coups since 1960 and pushed an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.



Some founders of AK, including Erdogan, were members of the Welfare Party, an Islamist party whose coalition was forced out 14 years ago. But as prime minister, Erdogan has ended the military's dominance through a series of reforms aimed at advancing Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.

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