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Turkish Military Officers Jailed for Erdogan Coup Plot

Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A Turkish court jailed 330 military officers, including serving and retired generals and admirals, for as long as 20 years on charges of plotting to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in 2003.

The court near Istanbul convicted ex-air force chief Halil Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and general Cetin Dogan, who commanded the 1st Army, and imprisoned them for 20 years each, the state-run Anatolia agency said, citing today’s court decision. Ten other ex-admirals and ex-generals, one of whom was elected to parliament, as well as one colonel, got 18 years in jail, it said.

“I guess the Turkish military have finally been ‘tamed’ and have come under civilian control,” Timothy Ash, head of emerging market research at Standard Bank Group Ltd., wrote in an e-mailed note today. “The bigger question I guess is what impact all this is having on morale in the armed forces.”

Erdogan declined to comment before seeing a detailed account of the court decision. “Our wish was that a just decision come out,” he said in televised remarks in Ankara. “The process is not over. It is subject to appeal.”

Under Control

Erdogan’s government, which has roots in an Islamist movement banned from politics in 2007, has curbed the staunchly secular military’s sway over politics since coming to power in November 2002 to put it under civilian rule as in the West. Prosecutors also put two surviving leaders of a 1980 military coup on trial.

The lira rose 0.2 percent to 1.7954 per dollar at 6:10 p.m. in Istanbul. The stock and bond markets were closed.

The convictions come as the army tackles a surge in attacks by the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and violence along Turkey's border just inside Syria.

The court convicted a total of 330 defendants, state television said. Thirty-four people were found innocent of charges of involvement in the alleged coup plot. The court postponed the ruling about one final defendant until after hearing his final remarks.

Coup Trigger

The defendants denied charges of “attempting to topple the government by force” by planning to bomb major mosques, stir chaos and trigger a military coup.

A total of 365 defendants have stood trial in the so-called Sledgehammer case since December 2010. The arrests of dozens of senior generals marked the highest-profile crackdown ever on Turkey’s military since it established the nation state in 1923.

The military’s chief of staff along with the commanders of the navy, the army and the air force resigned in 2011 in reaction to the arrests. The government then quickly promoted General Necdet Ozel as the new head of the armed forces.

The military said last year that the case is based on documents presented to a military seminar where scenarios of how to handle internal strife were discussed.

Hundreds more suspects, including soldiers, politicians and journalists, still face charges in a separate case, dubbed “Ergenekon,” also investigating an alleged conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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