Image: A police officer stands outside the headquarters of Turkey's Metal Workers' Union
Burhan Ozbilici  /  AP
A police officer stands outside the headquarters of Turkey's Metal Workers' Union, in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. Police have detained dozens of people in a new wave of arrests connected with an alleged secularist coup plot. The detentions followed police raids on the headquarters of a secularist metal workers' trade union and an opposition television station, among other places.
updated 1/22/2009 7:35:23 AM ET 2009-01-22T12:35:23

Police have detained dozens of people in a new wave of arrests connected with an alleged secularist plot to bring down the Islamic-rooted government, the state-run Anatolia news agency said Thursday.

The detentions on Monday followed police raids on the headquarters of a secularist metal workers' trade union and an opposition television station, among other places, Anatolia said.

Police would not immediately confirm the detentions, which threaten to deepen the divide between secularists and Islamists and aggravate tensions.

Government opponents targeted
Secularists believe the series of detentions is designed to silence government opponents, but the government insists the investigation of the alleged coup plot is purging Turkey of a network of renegade agents intent on destabilizing the country.

Anatolia said at least six people were detained for questioning in the capital Ankara, including the head of a metal workers' union, the owner of political polling company and a journalist.

The news agency said more than 26 people were detained in 13 provinces and included several active-duty military and police officers.

Eighty-six suspects — most of them outspoken critics of the government — are already on trial for membership in an organization called Ergenekon, which prosecutors say was planning to topple the government. The defendants are accused of seeking to destabilize Turkey through a string of attacks before a planned coup in 2009.

Last week, an Istanbul anti-terror court formally arrested and jailed 18 other coup plot suspects, including a former police chief and four active duty military officers, bringing the total of people allegedly involved in the case to more than 100. Police also discovered large amounts of explosives, weapons and ammunition buried underground.

Flimsy charges?
The opposition say the charges against more the suspects are flimsy. They accuse the government of a witch hunt against secularists who opposed the government's efforts to raise the profile of Islam.

"The trade unions are being silenced, media organizations are being scared off," opposition lawmaker Mustafa Ozyurek told reporters outside the trade union's headquarters. "Turkey is fast becoming an empire of fear."

This week, Turkey's secular military, disturbed by the arrests of dozens of military officers in the alleged plot, criticized the handling of the investigation as unfair and irresponsible.

The probe grew out of an investigation into a cache of weapons found in the home of a retired military officer in 2007. A dozen people, including a popular actress who appeared in a pro-secularist play, were also detained but released without being charged.

The 86 suspects on trial in the case include a top author, a political party leader, journalists, a former university dean and a lawyer along with 16 retired military officers.

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