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All eyes look to top military meeting after Turkish general's arrest

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/31/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The upcoming Supreme Military Council has become a source of much speculation following the arrest of the top candidate to head the Turkish Air Force.

The upcoming Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, in August has become a source of much speculation following the arrest of War Academies Commander Gen. Bilgin Balanlı, the top candidate to head the Turkish Air Force.

Gen. Balanlı was arrested Monday as a suspect in the ongoing “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) case, which deals with an alleged coup plot.

There should be strong suspicion about the arrest, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek told Kanal 24 on Tuesday. Fellow Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç told NTV on Tuesday that there should be more thought about the release rather than the arrest of high-ranking officers such as Balanlı who have a reputation within the army.

Following Gen. Balanlı’s arrest, a new name will likely be brought up for the Turkish Air Force command, an appointment expected to be made at this year’s YAŞ.

Last year’s meeting saw tension between the government and the military over appointing officials on trial in two alleged coup-plot cases, Sledgehammer and Ergenekon. The government strongly resisted the military’s plans to appoint 1st Army Commander Gen. Hasan Iğsız to head the Land Forces. Iğsız was among the generals accused in the Ergenekon case of launching an anti-government campaign via the Internet.

Similar tension is expected to erupt this summer, including the possibility the government will pressure the military to have Gen. Balanlı removed from duty or retired. This expectation has also raised behind-the-scenes debate over who could be named as an alternative to the arrested general.

If asked to retire, Gen. Balanlı would not only be the highest-ranking active-duty military officer behind bars, but also the first general to retire before his four years is up.

If the government intervenes with Gen. Balanlı’s appointment, the current commander of the Turkish Air Force, Hasan Aksay, could have his four years extended by one year. Another possible scenario is to promote a lieutenant general from the Air Force to the rank of full general, and then appoint the new general as commander.

The Turkish General Staff has yet to make a statement regarding Gen. Balanlı’s arrest.

Of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK’s, approximately 300 active-duty generals, 29 are under arrest on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. More than 160 soldiers – both active-duty and retired – are in prison pending trial on suspected links to the alleged coup plans.

[HH] CHP leader calls on TSK to remain silent

Main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has meanwhile called on the TSK to remain silent over Balanlı’s arrest.

Such arrests may be being organized by the ruling party to provoke reaction from the military that could increase the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, votes in the June 12 general elections, Kılıçdaroğlu told NTV late Monday.

“I particularly ask for the TSK not to show any reaction to the incident and to watch things from their barracks with a calm demeanor. There is nothing more to say. Justice will be delivered soon,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Adding that the arrest of a general was out of the ordinary, the CHP chief said experiences thus far have indicated that arrest decisions that come just before elections have repercussions that impact poll results because the judiciary is politicized.

“I don’t say this. It is [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan who said that. He said ‘[Gen. Alan] didn’t stand up [in the presence of the prime minister] and he is now where he deserves to be. He is now in Silivri,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to Gen. Engin Alan, an Ergenekon suspect under arrest at Silivri Prison who is also a deputy candidate from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.

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