Turk Army Says EU Goal Cannot Be Tool for Militants

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Turkey’s powerful army declared on Thursday it fully backed EU membership but–in a clear signal to a government with Islamist roots–said militants who tried to exploit EU-inspired liberal reforms would fail.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan–seeking to allay talk of tension with the army–described the military as "the midwife of Turkey’s process of modernization.”

Deputy armed forces chief Yasar Buyukanit dismissed media reports of military unease over many reforms Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government plans by next year to qualify for EU entry talks.

Many in the Turkish establishment see EU standards demanding the free use of Kurdish as a concession to armed Kurdish rebels.

EU criteria might also force Turkey to ease a strict secular code by–for instance–allowing women to wear Islamic headscarves at state institutions–something the AKP sees as a basic human right but critics view as a step to Islamist rule.

Buyukanit–clearly unhappy at the army being cast as an obstacle to progress–described the reports of military unease over reforms as an "unjustified attack.”

"I want to spell this out in capital letters: The Turkish Armed Forces cannot oppose the European Union–because the EU is a geopolitical and geostrategic obligation…under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s goal of modernization,” Buyukanit said.

Ataturk founded the Turkish state in 1923–breaking the influence of religion in politics and law. The army played a leading role in the process.

But Buyukanit said any radical Islamists or Kurdish rebels would be misled if they thought EU reforms would serve them.

"It is inevitable that those who see the…union’s high values as a means to reaching their archaic and separatist aims will be disappointed,” he said.

The army–which views the AKP with distrust–still sees itself as the main bulwark against militant Islam and Kurdish separatism and in four decades has ousted three governmen’s it saw as a threat to order. In 1997 it led a drive forcing Turkey’s first Islamist premier to resign.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said his government was committed to Western-style democracy. Asked about media mutterings of military intervention–he replied: "Turkey has left that period far behind.”

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