By Hidir Goktas and Selcuk Gokoluk
ANKARA (Reuters) – Documents seized by Turkish police indicate that a shadowy, ultra-nationalist illegal organization planned to trigger a coup to unseat the Turkish government, newspapers reported on Thursday.
The documents detailed a four-point plan, including launching illegal protests on July 7 across 40 provinces, sparking clashes with security forces, and publishing fake documents showing a worsening economy, said the newspaper Sabah, which has close ties to the government.
Police detained 21 people on Tuesday, including two retired senior generals, journalists and politicians, for links to a group known as Ergenekon suspected of trying to engineer a military takeover. All were critics of the government.
They have not yet been charged, but Istanbul’s chief prosecutor has prepared an indictment against more than 40 other people arrested over the past year as part of the same probe.
Turkey has had four military coups in the last 50 years.
“Ergenekon may be a criminal organization, and so should be prosecuted, but with its sloppy organization and old men in charge it remains highly doubtful this was anything very serious,” said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based expert on Turkish security issues.
The documents come as the governing AK Party defended itself in court against charges of trying to establish an Islamic state. The party could be closed down, a move that might lead to an early parliamentary election.
“We will try to finish (our oral defense) today,” AK Party deputy group chairman Bekir Bozdag told reporters.
The AK Party (AKP) has called for the Constitutional Court to dismiss the case. A ruling is most likely expected in August.
The chief prosecutor of the Court of Appeals also wants 71 leading political figures, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, banned from party membership for five years.
The EU has criticized the case, saying such political issues should be debated in parliament and decided through the ballot box, not in the courts.
Turkish assets fell on Thursday as the two events unnerved investors, who fear prolonged political tensions in the European Union-applicant country. Markets are also down on global woes.
“As a result of the recent detentions, tension between Turkey’s secular establishment and the AKP is reaching the boiling point,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
“Regardless of which camp will prevail at the end, the price is likely to be high for Turkey’s social and political stability,” Piccoli said in a research note.
Turkey’s second most powerful military commander called for calm on Wednesday and the AK Party said everyone must let the judiciary do its job.
Opposition parties criticized the handling of the case.
“Distinguished people from various segments of society, known to oppose the government, have been detained one after the other,” said Turkey’s main opposition leader Deniz Baykal.
“There is a suspicion in society that it is turning out to be a political revenge process rather than a legal process.”
Yeni Safak, a religious-leaning daily, said seized documents showed Ergenekon planned to kill members of the judiciary.
Turkey has long been divided along ideological and religious lines, stemming back to the foundation of modern Turkey on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. The republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk removed religion from public life and redirected Turkey towards the West.
The secularist elite, including generals, judges and professors, now accuse the AK Party of seeking to relax the strict separation of state and religion.
The AK Party, a pro-business, reform-driven party with roots in political Islam, denies the charges and points to its record in office as proof.
Political analysts say Ergenekon may be part of the shadowy “deep state,” code name for hardline nationalists in Turkey’s security forces and state bureaucracy who are ready to take the law into their own hands for the sake of their own agenda.
Many of the people detained in the Ergenekon investigation are members of the Ataturk Thought Association (ADD), a hardline group promoting the principles of the republic’s founder.
ADD helped push millions of secularist Turks onto the streets to protest against the election of Abdullah Gul as president last year, sparking an early parliamentary election.
Political analysts say the likelihood of the AK Party being closed down has increased since the Constitutional Court last month overturned a government-led move to allow students to wear the Islamic headscarf at university.