Turkey’s Gul approves army sackings of “Islamists”

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul has approved the sackings of seven military personnel suspected of Islamist leanings, the military General Staff said, in a move that may help ease secularist reservations about him.

Every year, the staunchly secular military expels a few officers for “reactionary” — or Islamist — tendencies.

But this year, some commentators speculated that Gul, himself a former Islamist, might refuse to approve the expulsions as he did when he was briefly prime minister.

“The Supreme Military Council decided with majority vote to expel seven personnel with reactionary attitude and behavior,” the army said in a statement posted on its Web site late on Friday.

The decision to expel the soldiers came after a two-day meeting of the Supreme Military Council chaired by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Gul, as commander in chief of the armed forces, was required to sign off on the expulsions.

Turkish secularists, including the army generals, distrust Gul and the AK Party’s Islamist past and suspect them of wanting to dismantle the strict separation of state and religion, claims Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan deny.

When he served briefly as prime minister in late 2002, Gul had refused to approve similar sackings of Islamist-minded officers, the newspapers said.

The General Staff, along with top judges and the main opposition party, managed to block parliament’s initial bid to elect Gul as president in May, forcing Erdogan to call a snap parliamentary election which the AK Party won resoundingly.

As well as the seven soldiers dismissed for suspected Islamist views, a further 31 military personnel were also dismissed for other misdemeanors including drug use and other unspecified immoral behavior.

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