|Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference in Istanbul on Friday. (Xinhua-Yonhap News)|
ANKARA (AFP) ― Turkey’s embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday he would favor retrials for hundreds of military officers jailed for coup-plotting.
In the latest sign of the turmoil that has gripped Turkish politics since the government was hit a huge corruption scandal last month, Erdogan appeared ready to reach out to the generals he once hounded.
“Our position on a retrial is a favorable one,” he told reporters in Istanbul before taking off on a tour of Asia.
“First we must establish the legal grounding for fresh trials,” he said, offering no further details but adding he hoped to obtain parliament’s support for the process.
Erdogan’s statement comes after a weekend meeting with Metin Feyzioglu, head of of the Union of Bar Associations, who submitted proposals in favor of the jailed officers.
The new development comes after the military command requested a review of the mass trials that sent hundreds of officers behind bars in 2012 and 2013, arguing that some of the evidence against them was fabricated.
Erdogan’s move comes as he and his ruling AKP party are embroiled in a bitter feud with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled Muslim cleric who wields tremendous influence across all levels of power.
A huge corruption scandal which has implicated Erdogan’s entourage and dragged down some of his ministers erupted last month, with elections looming in March.
Observers say Gulen’s movement appears to have orchestrated the graft probe.
Erdogan, battling one of the most serious challenges to his 11-year rule, reacted by purging the police ― which he once backed as a counter-power to the military ―for assisting in the investigation against his allies.
The scandal has dented Turkey’s image as a model of Muslim democracy and stability among other emerging nations, while pushing the national currency to record lows against the U.S. dollar and undermining investor confidence.
Erdogan claims the corruption investigation is a plot by internal and foreign enemies to “assassinate the national will” and topple his government.
In 2013, former army chief General Ilker Basbug was jailed for life and scores of army officers, journalists and lawyers were imprisoned for their role in the so-called “Ergenekon” conspiracy, an alleged plot to overthrow Erdogan’s government.
In 2012, more than 300 active and retired military officers were sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years in a trial that ruled that an army exercise in 2003, codenamed “Sledgehammer,” was an undercover coup plot against the AKP.
Gulen’s movement is believed to have masterminded the mass trials but it fell out with Erdogan over government plans to shut down the brotherhood’s network of schools.
Media commentators have interpreted the latest moves for a review of the trials as a de-facto alliance between Erdogan and the army against Gulen’s Hizmet brotherhood.
Aged 73, Gulen has lived in the eastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania since he left Turkey in 1999 to escape prosecution on charges of “anti-secular activities.”
His organization revolves around a network of schools in more than 100 countries that promote Turkish culture and a moderate Islamic viewpoint. It also owns TV stations and is connected with the biggest paper in Turkey, the Istanbul-based Zaman.
“We don’t know where this court procedure will lead nor whether officers will really get a retrial but many in Turkey never believed these officers did anything wrong,” political analyst Rusen Cakir said.
Erdogan left Turkey for a six-day tour of Asia that will include Japan, Singapore and Malaysia and is aimed at boosting trade ties and cooperation.
He is expected to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday and is also due to meet Emperor Akihito.