ANKARA - Turkey’s top military council on Saturday ordered the retirement of dozens of generals and admirals who are currently being held on charges of coup plotting, the army announced on its website.

Fifty-five generals and admirals are required to retire due to a lack of vacancies in their positions and one admiral due to his age as of September 1, the army said in an online statement.

Among them were 40 generals and admirals in detention in connection with several probes including the so-called Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases into alleged plots to topple the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported the local media, after initially putting the number at 37. The jailed generals had been due for a promotion suspended at last year’s military council meeting. But the council Saturday said it had ordered their retirement instead.

The Supreme Military Council (YAS) began meeting on Wednesday to discuss promotions and dismissals within the armed forces. The decisions were made public Saturday after being approved by President Abdullah Gul. This year’s YAS meeting however ended without tensions compared to last year, which witnessed the shock mass resignation of the country’s top brass in a row with the government over officers jailed for alleged coup plots. Veteran journalist Fikret Bila said the retirement of the arrested generals and admirals was the government’s preference. Bila told private NTV television that some of those in custody might eventually be cleared in the ongoing trials “but the decision on their retirement shows they are being dismissed from the army before the cases are concluded.” The retirement orders are seen as considered the latest blow to Turkey’s beleaguered officer corps which has been targeted by a series of probes in recent years into past military interventions and coup plots.

Hundreds of suspects, including several senior retired and serving officers, as well as journalists, lawyers and politicians, separately face trial for their alleged role to topple the Islamic-rooted government.

The trials are widely seen as part of efforts by the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to roll back the military’s influence in politics.

But critics accuse Erdogan’s government of launching the probes as a tool to silence its opponents and impose authoritarianism - charges it denies. The Turkish army, which sees itself as the guarantor of Turkey’s secular principles, overthrew three earlier administrations in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

And in 1997, it pressured Islamic-leaning prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, Eerdogan’s political mentor, to step down.

The military council also appointed General Galip Mendi as new commander of the Second Army, which is based in southeastern Malatya province and responsible for protecting Anatolia from any threat emanating from Syria, Iran or Iraq. The army recently reinforced defences on the border with conflict-torn Syria with tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons.  The military council, which meets twice a year, also promoted 29 generals and admirals to higher ranks, the army said on its website.