Turkish General’s Arrest Roils Air Force

A senior general who was expected to become the new air force commander this summer has been detained on charges of conspiracy to topple the government, a senior military official said May 31.

An Istanbul court May 30 arrested Air Force Gen. Bilgin Balanli, commander of the War Academy, accusing him of involvement in a plan to overthrow the government of Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Balanli is the most senior Air Force general and, therefore, the strongest candidate to become the service commander in an annual reshuffle in August.

Dozens of duty and retired officers are currently in jail on similar charges, but Balanli is the only active-duty full general.

“The charges against him effectively means that General Balanli has lost chances of becoming the next commander. And this situation raises serious questions regarding who else can take over,” the military official said.

In recent years, the prime minister blocked the promotion of officers who were charged with plotting a coup or trying to topple his government.

“One option is to extend the term of the current commander for one year until another full general takes over,” he said.

Air Force Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay was set to retire after this year’s reshuffle.

Erdogan’s government and the military have been long disputed religion’s role in politics and public life. In recent years, the government has prevailed in this rift through legislation and judicial proceedings against what prosecutors indict as coup-plotting officers.