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By Ece Toksabay
SILIVRI, Turkey |
Fri Aug 3, 2012 12:39pm EDT
SILIVRI, Turkey (Reuters) - A former Turkish military chief told a court on Friday that a 2003 war game, which prosecutors say was part of a coup plot, had gone too far in using real politicians' names and that he had raised his concerns at the time.
The war game scenario, played out at a barracks in Istanbul in March 2003, is central to prosecution evidence in a case against 364 officers accused of seeking to topple the Islamist-rooted government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
General Hilmi Ozkok was head of NATO's second largest armed forces between 2002 and 2006. At the time there was widespread concern in Turkey's secularist establishment, including the military, that Erdogan's AK party had a secret Islamist agenda.
The "Sledgehammer" plot is alleged to have included plans to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul and trigger conflict with Greece to pave the way for an army takeover. It also included the 2003 war game scenario.
"In the most dangerous scenario, I learned that real names of politicians were used, and the war game went beyond its purpose with real names," Ozkok said in the second day of his witness testimony at the trial of the Ergenekon conspiracy, a separate alleged coup plot.
"I raised it with the land forces commander at the time," Ozkok told the courtroom in Silivri, west of Istanbul, where hundreds of the conspiracy defendants are held on remand in a high-security jail.
In acting out the war game, officers used the names of several Istanbul district mayors to be replaced in the case of military intervention. Other former commanders have previously said the use of real names was improper.
Defendants say the scenario did not constitute a coup plot.
The trials of the alleged conspiracies are the latest twist in a power struggle between the AK Party and a military that staged three coups between 1960-1980 and pressured an Islamist-led government to resign in 1997.
The army issued a memorandum ordering the government to protect secularism in 2007 -- a move which backfired and gave the AK Party the upper hand.
Ozkok is the third former general staff chief to testify in trials of the alleged conspiracies against Erdogan.
One of his successors, Ilker Basbug, is among 273 defendants accused of links to Ergenekon, which prosecutors say was a nationalist network intent on unseating the government. MPs, academics and journalists are also among the accused.
During questioning, Ozkok spoke positively about Basbug, chief of staff between 2008 and 2010, saying he had "benefited greatly" from his work.
On Thursday, Ozkok revealed that unease about the government had led one commander to raise the idea of issuing a written warning to it in 2003. He said alleged coup plot plans had been brought to his attention at the time, but he did not act as he was unsure of their authenticity.
Public enthusiasm for the judiciary's moves against the alleged plotters has waned in recent years amid growing suspicion in some quarters that the investigations were being used to stifle political dissent.
A crowd of around 100 spectators applauded General Basbug when he arrived in court on Friday, only his second appearance in recent months. He waved back and smiled at the group, which included relatives and former comrades.
The next hearing has been scheduled for Aug 6, but the trial is currently in limbo. Defense lawyers have boycotted its closing stages because of the judges' refusal to hear testimony questioning the authenticity of evidence allegedly gleaned from confiscated computer files.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall)
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