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Turkish court releases former top military officers detained over coup plot

[JURIST] A Turkish court on Thursday released three high ranking military officials detained for questioning over an alleged coup plot, hours after top political and military officials met to discuss the escalating situation. The court released [AP report] former chief of the Navy, Adm. Ozden Ornek, ex-chief of the Air Force Gen. Ibrahim Firtina, and Gen. Ergin Saygun, ex-deputy chief of the military, but all three remain under investigation. Turkish President Abdullah Gul [official website, in Turkish], Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug [official profile], met in Ankara [NYT report], to discuss tensions over the coup plot and the ensuing prosecutions. Eight officers were charged early Thursday on top of the 12 charged [JURIST report] on Wednesday. Had Ornek and Firtina also been charged, they would have been the most senior military officers charged thus far in connection with the 2003 Balyoz Security Operation Plan [Taraf report, in Turkish], or "Sledgehammer plot," revealed last month by the newspaper Taraf [official website, in Turkish].

Ornek and Firtina were apprehended on Monday by Turkish police in an operation that detained more than 40 people [JURIST report] in connection to the coup. Turkey's secular nationalist establishment, including the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish], has long conflicted with the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. In July 2009, Gul approved [JURIST report] a law that would allow the prosecution of military personnel in civilian courts and would prevent military prosecution of civilians during peacetime. Gul said that the law was necessary for accession [JURIST report] to the European Union (EU) [official website]. The Sledgehammer plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. The probe into the Ergenekon conspiracy has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further its imposition of Islamic principles [JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text].

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