Turkish prosecutors have accused two retired four-star generals of hatching and leading a plot to topple the Islamist-rooted government, an indictment made public Wednesday said.
The 1,909-page charge sheet is the second one to emerge from a long-running investigation into an alleged secularist-nationalist group called Ergenekon that planned to foment unrest and prompt a military coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The long list of charges against them includes "attempting to unseat the government or prevent it from conducting its duties," and “attempting to provoke an armed uprising against the government".
The two main suspects are Sener Eruygur, former commander of the paramilitary gendarmerie forces, and Hursit Tolon, former army commander, both of whom the prosecution accuses of drawing up coup plans while still in office in 2003 and 2004.
The prosecutors are demanding life in prison for both men.
The charge sheet also brings various charges against 54 other suspects, including membership of a terrorist organization, inciting an armed uprising against the government, stealing state secrets and possession of explosives.
The indictment was approved by an Istanbul court, which set the first hearing for July 20 when it will decide whether to merge the case with that against 86 other suspects already on trial for links to Ergenekon.
Seventy-seven people remain under investigation in the affair.
The Ergenekon probe, which began in 2007 and has led to the discovery of several weapons caches, has stoked political tensions in Turkey, with critics charging that the government is using the probe to silence secularist opponents.
It was initially hailed as a success, but came under increasing fire after it began targeting journalists, academics and intellectuals known to be critics of the government.
The AKP is accused by some of using the probe as revenge against political opponents for a failed bid last year to have the Islamist-rooted party outlawed for alleged anti-secular activity.
Eroding military might
Liberals say the investigation is proof the army is no longer untouchable.
Turkey's military, NATO's second largest army, has long seen itself as the guarantor of democracy and stability at times of domestic instability, the ultimate remedy to what an analyst calls the "Turkey-is-on-the-brink-of-collapse" syndrome.
"The old idea that the army is there to step in and save Turkey from whatever it has to be saved from is over," said Hugh Pope, author of books on Turkey and an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"The Turkish military is becoming more European and Turkish society is discussing these issues in a way it was not possible to discuss them in the past," Pope said.
Past putsches known in the local rich coup lexicon as "Coup by Memorandum," the "Post-Modern Coup", the "Judicial Coup", the "e-Coup" were carried out to end anarchy or perceived threats from Islamists. Today, they are blamed for stunting democratic growth and bequeathing the country a weak and divided system.
EU reforms have consolidated the submission of the army to civilian power and few believe coups are possible today.
"The era of coups is over. There is no need for that. If problems arise, the chief of staff meets with the prime minister or the president and they discuss the issue," Former armed forces Chief Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu said.