86 people charged in coup plot in Turkey

Eighty-six people, including former military officers, and writers and lawyers, were formally charged Monday with membership in an illegal ultranationalist organization and of plotting a coup to overthrow the Turkish government.

Speaking at a televised news conference, the Istanbul chief prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin, refused to detail the case against the ultranationalist and hard-line secular organization, known as Ergenekon, citing prohibitions on public briefings before a case is formally accepted by the criminal court.

But he said the suspects, 48 of them in police custody and the others free awaiting trial, are charged with forming, managing and aiding the terror organization that allegedly plotted a military coup against the Islamic-rooted governing Justice and Development Party, which rose to power in 2002.

The 2,455-page indictment is widely perceived in Turkey as being part of a power struggle between the elitist secular establishment, including parts of the military, and the democratically elected and religiously conservative government.

Another case before Turkey's high court charges the ruling party and its leaders with bringing religion into government and violating secular principles on which the Turkish state was founded. The case seeks to disband the party.

The latest case of the alleged coup emerged when a cache of weapons, explosives and illegal documents was found in an ultranationalist retired military officer's home during a security operation 13 months ago.

Since then, several police investigations have provided information that the Ergenekon group – Ergenekon is a reference to a central Asian Turkic legend with strong nationalist overtones – had also been involved in an armed attack on a senior state court in 2006, as well as the 2007 bombing of Cumhuriyet, a left-wing newspaper in Istanbul. Both of these attacks were included in the charges announced Monday.

A security operation earlier this month led to the arrests of other suspects, including two high-ranking retired generals. These suspects were not included in Monday's indictment, but will be added in a separate filing, Engin said.

Separately Monday, military prosecutors began an investigation into charges against the two retired generals, Sener Eruygur and Hursit Tolon, NTV, a private news TV station, reported. The prosecutors demanded copies of evidence security forces collected from the former generals' personal premises, NTV said.

Military courts in Turkey have jurisdiction to look into criminal charges against any military personnel during their service. The arrest of the two former generals has stirred controversy in a nation where the military has traditionally seen its role as protecting the secular state.

The military denies any links with the Ergenekon network. It reasserts its loyalty to the secular Turkish Republic in occasional public statements. Critics remain suspicious of the governing party, which grew out of previous pro-Islamic parties. The critics warn that the government's policies will lead gradually to an Islamic-inspired conservative society in Turkey. Opposition parties have heavily criticized the government for appointing religious candidates to critical state positions during its almost seven years in power.