Turkey appoints new military commanders

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey on Thursday appointed commanders to posts left vacant by the resignation of the military's top brass in a dispute with the government that showcased the elected leaders' strengthening control over the once-mighty military.

President Abdullah Gul approved the appointment of a new chief of staff as well as new commanders to head the navy, army and air force, at the end of a key four-day meeting to discuss military promotions and dismissals, said his spokesman, Ahmet Sever.

The country's military chief of staff and the leaders of the navy, army and air force stepped down last week, frustrated over the arrests and prosecution of hundreds of officers for allegedly trying to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.

Erdogan's government adamantly opposed promoting generals implicated in the alleged coup plots, prompting the resignations of the top brass who said the officers were being punished before a court verdict and that the military was being portrayed as a "criminal" institution.

The new appointments show how the elected government is gaining the upper hand over the military, breaking with the tradition in which the military made its own decisions on promotions and dismissals within the ranks, having the government rubber-stamp the decisions.

The military has overthrown three governments since 1960 and pressured an Islamic-led government to step down in 1997.

Gen. Necdet Ozel – the former commander of the military police force and untainted by the alleged plots – was named the new chief of staff to replace the resigned Gen. Isik Kosaner. Ozel had been made the acting chief of staff on Friday, hours after Kosaner stepped down.

The list approved by Gul sidelined 14 generals or admirals who were in line for promotion and who have been implicated in the alleged plots. Sever, the president's spokesman, said a decision on their promotions was deferred for a year.

The officers have been jailed on charges of plotting to overthrow the government in 2003. The military has denied the accusations.

The new air force commander, three-star general Mehmet Erten, was promoted to the position normally held by a four-star general, in a major break with military traditions. Gen. Hayri Kivrikoglu was named the commander of land forces, while Adm. Emin Bilgel was made navy chief. None of them have been linked to anti-government plots.

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