(Edited from AP, Ankara) Police Monday detained 52 military commanders for allegedly planning to blow up mosques to trigger a military takeover and overthrow the Islamic-oriented government. The detentions showed the elected government was trying to take the upper hand against the military, which has ousted four governments since 1960 and held influence since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created the secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

(Edited from AP, Ankara) Police Monday detained 52 military commanders for allegedly planning to blow up mosques to trigger a military takeover and overthrow the Islamic-oriented government.

The detentions showed the elected government was trying to take the upper hand against the military, which has ousted four governments since 1960 and held influence since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created the secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

But with strong electoral backing and support from the European Union, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has curtailed military power and signaled further tough steps to rein in the generals. Yesterday’s detentions, following the gathering of wiretap evidence and the discovery of secret weapons caches, marks the highest-profile crackdown to date.

Police in operations in eight cities detained 21 generals and admirals, including Gen. Ergin Saygun, ex-deputy chief of the general staff; Gen. Ibrahim Firtina, former Air Force chief; and Adm. Ozden Ornek, former Navy chief. The rest were mostly colonels. They are also accused of conspiring to plan the shooting down of a Turkish warplane to trigger armed conflict with Greece in a bid to destabilize the Turkish government.

The military strongly denies the allegations.

Erdogan declined to comment yesterday on the raids, saying they had been carried out on prosecutors’ orders.

A spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party expressed concern. “These are grave incidents, severe incidents for society, for the Turkish armed forces,” Mustafa Ozyurek said.

Erdogan denies the crackdown is politically motivated or designed to silence government critics, as is alleged by opposition parties.

Conflict over Turkey’s national identity has simmered since Ataturk, an army officer in World War I, founded the republic. He gave the vote to women, restricted Islamic dress, and replaced the Arabic script with the Roman alphabet, but Islam remains a potent force. Since taking power in 2002, Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted party has denied it is trying to impose religion on politics and society. Secularists view its attempts to permit Islamic style head scarves at universities and a past push to criminalize adultery as alarming.

The military’s self-declared mission to protect the secular regime has pitted it in a fight with Erdogan’s government.

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