December 29, 2009 / 10:31 PM / 10 years ago

Five Turkish soldiers released in army probe

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish prosecutor released five soldiers and asked a court to remand three others in custody on Tuesday in an investigation into a possible anti-government conspiracy, Turkish media reported.

The eight were detained on Saturday for questioning as part of a probe which has fuelled speculation about strains between the secularist military and ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party after media reports of a plot to kill a deputy prime minister.

The court was expected to rule during the night on whether to keep the other three soldiers in custody. State-run Anatolian news agency said the questioning lasted for eight hours.

Turkey’s powerful military said on Tuesday it had no objections to searches which judicial officials have carried out since Saturday at the headquarters of a special forces unit in connection with the probe.

Turkey’s armed forces have toppled four governments since 1960, and a civilian search of a military facility would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Media said it was the first time police had dared take such action.

The military said in a statement it had acquiesced to the probe taking place at the Special Forces’ Tactical Mobilisation Group’s command centre in the capital Ankara, although the section being searched held documents containing state secrets.

“The search is totally within the legal framework, and it’s understood that it will continue for some more time,” the military said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has met military commanders several times in the past days and on Sunday denied any tensions with the armed forces, traditionally seen as guardians of Turkey’s secular constitution.

Although friction between the military and the government periodically upsets Turkey’s financial markets, there has been little reaction over the past week.

Turks are watching to see if there is any follow-through this time, having seen other probes into alleged plots drag on without any clear resolution.

“BAD INTENTIONS”

The episode could represent an attempt to assert civilian supremacy over the military, in a country that needs a stable democracy to support its bid for European Union membership.

Nationalist, opposition politicians accuse the AK Party of creating scares to bolster sagging support as it prepares to fight for a third term in an election due by mid-2011.

The case erupted on Dec. 19, when police detained a colonel and a major whose car had been seen several times passing by the deputy prime minister’s residence in the capital Ankara.

Despite the officers being swiftly released, Turkish media reported that they were suspected of plotting to assassinate Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.

The media said the two men were detained again on Saturday, along with six others from special forces taken in for questioning.

Arinc said on Monday there was evidence that some people had “possible bad intentions”, adding that it was inaccurate to describe it as an assassination attempt.

The media has reported that soldiers at the command centre were initially obstructive when the police first sought entry on Saturday, and the state prosecutor in charge of the operation had been barred from taking sensitive material out of the facility and was having to document each step of the search.

Additional reporting by Zerin Elci; Editing by Charles Dick

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