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Turkish army arrests fuel civilian fears

NOBODY in Turkey is missing the significance of the arrest by the Turkish armed forces of two respected television reporters, a shocking reminder of military rule in Turkey in 1980-83.

Final appeals failed on Thursday to rescue Erhan Akyildiz and Ali Tevfik Berber from Ankara's dreaded Mamak military jail, where they await trial simply for hosting a current affairs programme that broadcast interviews with peace activists opposed to military service.

The two activists will probably also be arrested because of a 1940 law under which their mild comments against war and soldiering could be judged to 'cool the people towards national service'.

Dogan Gures, the Chief of General Staff, has done a U- turn since he announced the reduction of national service from a standard 18 months to 15 months last year, promising to adapt the second biggest armed forces in Nato to a changed post-Cold War world. Penalties for 250,000 draft dodgers have now been raised.

The army is making hard work of the fight against 10,000 Kurdish rebels in south- east Turkey and newspapers close to the military have started touting fears of a threat from Russia to the north.

Thanks to liberalisation that has made a military coup unthinkable, many were shocked that the army would want to pull civilians off the street.

Some newspaper commentators howled in protest at the reporters' arrest. Oktay Eksi, the press council chief, said up to 900 legal restrictions on free expression were being used more harshly than necessary and that 55 journalists and writers were in jail. Some papers fought back with stories about General Gures's son Serdar, who, like many young Turks, has long delayed his national service with extra years of studenthood. Other commentators kept warily quiet.

'Sometimes we have what President (Suleyman) Demirel calls 'many-voiced Turkey', sometimes those who make Turkey talk are thrown into jail,' wrote Yalcin Dogan, editor of Milliyet newspaper. 'There is a real question about who is running the country.'