This file picture taken on February 27, 1997 shows Turkish chief of staff General Ismail Hakki Karadayi at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem.—AFP Photo

ISTANBUL: Authorities in Turkey have detained a former military chief for his alleged role in a 1997 coup that forced an Islamic-leaning government from power, Anatolia news agency reported Thursday.

The retired general, Ismail Hakki Karadayi, is expected to testify before an Ankara court as part of an investigation that was launched in 2011 and has led to the arrests of dozens of military officers.

Karadayi’s lawyer said he was not aware of any arrest warrant issued for the ex-general, who was “being summoned to Ankara” to testify as a suspect, the agency added.

The suspects, several of them ex-generals, are accused of “overthrowing a government and inhibiting its functions” and risk lengthy prison terms if convicted.

Karadayi was the head of the military chiefs of staff in 1997 – the last time Turkey’s once all-powerful military was involved in changing the government, when it forced the Islamic-rooted premier Necmettin Erbakan to step down.

The events of 1997 are popularly referred to in Turkey as a “post-modern coup” since they involved no troops and the deposed cabinet was not replaced by a military one.

Erbakan was forced to step aside after a series of warnings from the army, which in February 1997 ordered scores of tanks to roll through the streets of Ankara in what was seen as a show of power against the government.

The case is another link in a chain of probes into coups and plots in the history of Turkey, where four governments have been toppled in half a century by the military, the self-appointed guardian of Turkish secularism.

In April, authorities arrested several ex-generals, including Cevik Bir, the number two at the army chiefs of staff, who was widely seen as having been the mastermind of the 1997 overthrow.

After his arrest, Bir appealed for the investigation to include Karadayi, on the grounds that he was the most senior commander at the time and was at the top of the chain of command.

Tensions have been rising for years between the military and the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a disciple of Erbakan, and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002.

Hundreds of suspects, including army officers, journalists and lawmakers, are being tried separately over their alleged roles in plots to topple the AKP, which has sought to decrease the military’s influence in politics.

In September more than 300 retired and active military officers received prison sentences of up to 20 years after the court ruled their “Sledgehammer” exercise in 2003 was an undercover coup plot.

In another case, hundreds of suspects, including former army chief Ilker Basbug, stand accused of membership in the “Ergenekon terrorist organisation”, which prosecutors say attempted to foment chaos in Turkey for a military takeover.

Pro-government circles have praised the investigations as a step toward democracy but critics have branded them witch-hunts aimed at stifling opposition.

Updated Jan 03, 2013 12:24pm

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