Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile, in Turkish] on Saturday stated his willingness to consider changes to a law that allows the military to interfere in domestic matters. Article 35 of Turkish Armed Forces Services Law, which gives the military the authority to intervene in domestic affairs in certain situations, has been used in the past to justify military coups, including the 1980 Turkish coup [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Opponents of Article 35 say the law is authoritarian [Reuters report] and warn that it could be used to justify future coups within the country, while supports contend that the law allows the military to fulfill its role as the protector of a secular government. Erdogan indicated he was willing to consider changing the law at a speech being held as part of a campaign to garner support for a nationwide referendum on a series of constitutional amendments [text, in Turkish] which is scheduled to be held in September. The proposed amendments were approved by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in May, but a portion of the reforms aimed at limiting the power of the judiciary and bringing the judiciary and military under government control were ruled unconstitutional [JURIST reports] by the Turkish Constitutional Court earlier this month. Supporters of the reforms, which include allowing civil courts to try military officers as well as expanded labor union rights and consumer protects, state that they are required for Turkey's admission to the EU. Opponents, however, contend the reforms are meant to consolidate power and to bring the traditionally secular judiciary and military under control of the government. Criticism of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website] has been growing, and many see Erdogan's support for the change in the law as a way to build broader support for the referendum vote.
Erdogan's promise to consider changes to the law came one day after a Turkish court ordered the arrest of 102 people [JURIST report], including two serving and three retired military officers, in connection with an alleged 2003 coup plot. The 2003 Balyoz Security Operation Plan [Taraf report, in Turkish; Al Jazeera backgrounder], or "Sledgehammer" plot, which included plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane in order to undermine the government, was revealed by the Taraf [media website] newspaper in January. The Istanbul 10th Court for Serious Crimes [GlobaLex backgrounder] ordered the arrests after another court indicted 196 [JURIST report] over the plot on Monday. In June, the trial of 33 retired and active naval officers [JURIST report], accused of attempting to overthrow the government and establish military rule in another plot planned by a group called Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], began. The group allegedly planned to assassinate prominent members of Turkey's Christian and Jewish minority groups, blame Islamic terrorists for the deaths and use this to delegitimize the ruling AKP. The investigations into the alleged coups have strained relations between the religiously-inclined government and the secular military, which has been responsible for four coups in the last 50 years.