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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Top Turkish General Warns of Islamist Threat"

ANKARA, 27 September 2006 - A top general said yesterday Turkey faces a growing Islamist threat and he strongly defended the army's right to speak out on the issue despite European Union criticism about military "interference" in politics. Turkey's military, which drove a government from power as recently as 1997, views itself as the ultimate guardian of the country's secular order, but it has seen its considerable powers trimmed in recent years by EU-inspired reforms.

"Today I am sorry to say that, even if some circles do not accept it, the reactionary (Islamist) threat is reaching alarming proportions," Gen. Ilker Basbug, head of the land forces, told trainee officers at the Ankara military academy. "Turning religion into an ideology will politicize it and religion will then be the biggest loser," he said, accusing the Islamists of "patiently and systematically" eroding secularism.

His comments seemed aimed at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, whose roots in political Islam have long made it an object of army distrust.

The army especially opposes government efforts to relax restrictions on religion in the field of education, including a ban on women wearing Muslim headscarves inside universities. Responding to EU criticism, Basbug, who is No. 2 in the military hierarchy, said the generals had a duty to intervene in politics when defending secularism and nationalism.

"The Turkish Armed Forces have always taken sides and will continue to take sides in protecting the nation state, the unitary state and the secular state," he said. Turkey began EU entry talks last year.

Meanwhile, Kurdish rebels killed an army officer yesterday in Turkey's troubled southeast, security officials said, and also claimed responsibility for a weekend bombing that wounded 12 people. The officials said members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) killed the officer and wounded two village guards in an ambush in the province of Mardin. Village guards are responsible for security in rural areas.
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