ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s civilian and military leaders met on Monday as police searched a key unit of the army’s special forces for a third day in an investigation into a suspected plot to assassinate the deputy prime minister.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan denied on Sunday that there were strains between his Islamist-rooted government and the military, a day after police detained eight soldiers during an initial search of the Special Forces’ Tactical Mobilisation headquarters in the capital Ankara.
A search of a military facility by civilians, in a country where the secularist armed forces have toppled four governments since 1960, would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, and Turkish media said it was the first time police had dared take such action.
No charges have been laid in the case, which erupted on Dec. 19, when police first detained two officers after a guard at Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc’s residence reported seeing a car passing the house several times.
The two men, a major and a colonel, were subsequently released, but some reports say they were among the eight soldiers detained on Saturday.
Arinc reiterated on Monday that he did not believe he was the target of an assassination plot.
“Naturally this incident should not be thought of as an assassination attempt. Yes, newspapers have covered it like this, but there was no direct act with a weapon,” Arinc said in comments carried by CNN Turk’s Web site.
“However, there is evidence that individuals were detected with possible bad intentions.”
State Prosecutor Mustafa Bilgili accompanied police on Monday during the search of special forces’ offices in the capital’s Kirazlidere district, according to CNN Turk.
The National Security Council meets once every two months, but Monday’s meeting was cast against mounting uncertainty over the state of relations between the AK Party and the military, long regarded as the guardian of Turkey’s secular constitution.
“We will continue to fight with determination against terrorism and the atmosphere that cultivates it, which target our nation’s integrity and our citizens’ unity and peace,” a statement from the council said, without elaborating.
Arinc is a member of the National Security Council, chaired by President Abdullah Gul.
Erdogan already met with Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug on Saturday, his second meeting in three days. Land Forces commander Isik Kosaner also attended the meeting on Saturday.
The military said in a statement on Thursday that the two officers, when they were first picked up, had been part of an operation to monitor a fellow officer who lived near Arinc and had been suspected of leaking information.
Some Turks believe the government and elements in the military and civil service engage in dirty tricks to discredit each other.
Opposition politicians have accused the AK Party of whipping up scares to gain sympathy ahead of an election due mid-2011.
The potential for confrontation between the ruling party and the military remains a significant political risk factor for investors. But Turkish markets have barely reacted over the past week, perhaps helped by the absence of many foreign players during the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton