Predators hot on trail of Ciller the cat

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The Independent Online
Christopher de Bellaigue Ankara

"Tansu Ciller is a like a cat," a Turkish political commentator observed last week. "She always lands on all fours." But he may have spoken too soon. In opposition for the first time since she joined politics, Mrs Ciller has rarely looked less sure on her feet. The reason, say detractors, is that feline Mrs Ciller has been caught with the cream.

Since the last election in 1995, mutinies and expulsions have skimmed Mrs Ciller's once-powerful True Path Party of almost one-third of its parliamentary strength. Turkey's two mainstream media companies, whom she seduced with low-interest credits, have stopped championing the "pretty blonde lady" and have begun howling for her blood. To add insult to injury, a military prosecutor has begun investigating claims that Mrs Ciller spent the past 30 years spying for the CIA.

Allegations of espionage will be hard to prove; the State Department in Washington has already denied that Mrs Ciller received a yearly retainer of $100,000 for passing on information. But more than the allegations, what worries Mrs Ciller's dwindling band of loyalists is that the army's inquiries are founded on accusations cooked up by Dogu Perincek, a left- winger, famous for his inventive frame of mind. Military co-operation with an inveterate conspiracy theorist like Mr Perincek, they maintain, shows the army has abandoned Mrs Ciller.

This is significant because she used to be a favourite of Turkey's secular- minded generals. As prime minister, Mrs Ciller defended a "military solution" to the war between the armed forces and Kurdish nationalists. She also dissolved the pro-Kurdish Democracy Party and put six of its members behind bars. She provided Dogan Gures, Turkey's top general, with a parliamentary ticket when he retired from the services.

Mrs Ciller's relations with the generals soured when she teamed up with Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, to form a coalition government last summer. Now, the military thinks Mrs Ciller had their phones tapped during her recently terminated period of government with Mr Erbakan, when a military coup seemed in the offing. Last week, she said the armed forces had became "a matter for discussion". This was too much for General Gures, who resigned from the True Path.

The phone-tapping claims are probably more damaging than the allegations about the CIA. Several policemen have been arrested for spying on the army while Mrs Ciller was deputy prime minister in Mr Erbakan's government. At present, a military prosecutor is looking no further than Meral Aksener, the former interior minister. The trouble is that Mrs Aksener was appointed by Mrs Ciller. Should the latter be implicated, parliamentary immunity will provide no protection from accusations of treason.

Add to this an array of judicial threats, and Mrs Ciller's isolation becomes apparent. The new coalition government has prepared a constitutional amendment which would limit Mrs Ciller's parliamentary immunity. Her controversial husband, Ozer Ucuran Ciller, is the subject of investigations into property deals and his supposed involvement with organised crime. Most of these allegations appear to touch Mrs Ciller, too.