Turkey's former armed forces chief said on Tuesday he would not defend himself against terrorism charges, describing the accusations against him as a comedy in a trial highlighting the fall from grace of the once-all powerful military.

Such a trial of a top military figure would have been unthinkable before Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reined in the armed forces with democratic reforms. Its image has since been tarnished by a series of investigations into alleged coup plots.

Retired General Ilker Basbug, chief of staff in 2008-2010 and accused of involvement in a bid to overthrow the government, called for his trial to be heard by the supreme court and said he had no respect for the indictment.

Wearing a dark suit, Basbug stood up and spoke in a slow and determined tone, occasionally raising his voice in the court, located in a high-security prison complex at Silivri west of Istanbul, where he has been held since January.

I regard it as an injustice to the Turkish Armed Forces and the rank which I held in it to make a defence in your presence, he said to applause from around 40 spectators in the court.

Hence I will not defend myself and I will not answer any questions, he said.

Basbug is accused of being a leader of a shadowy network dubbed Ergenekon, behind a string of alleged plots against the government of Erdogan. Ergenekon is accused of planning campaigns of disinformation, bombings and assassinations to stir panic and precipitate an army coup.

The general was appearing for the second day in a trial among several target ting hundreds of secularist military and civilian figures accused of conspiring to topple the Islamist-rooted government.

The armed forces have traditionally seen themselves as guardian of the secular system, envisaged by the republic's founder, soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Long the most popular institution in Turkish public life, the military staged three coups between 1960-1980 and pressured its first Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

HONESTY AND COURAGE

During a break in the hearing, Basbug got up and went to the back of court where he was congratulated for his honesty and courage by a group of smartly dressed people, including his daughter, son, former colleagues and their wives.

He asked where the other former chiefs of staff were, apparently disappointed they had not come to give him support, and said he had surprised the judges with his comments.

I spent my life fighting terror. I am the 26th chief of staff of the Turkish Republic, he had told the court. For a chief of staff to face such allegations is a comedy of incompetency.

If there is to be a trial of me personally, it is clear that the place for this trial is the supreme court, he said.

The military has generally viewed Erdogan, a man with roots in political Islam, and his AK Party with deep suspicion since it was first elected in 2002.

Since then, the AK Party has built up a huge majority in parliament, reformed the judiciary and used authority bolstered by economic success to strip the military of the power it has enjoyed virtually to make or break governments.

But critics say the AK Party after 10 years in power has filled the judiciary and police with loyalists who are now conducting a witch-hunt against political enemies, and that the former secular elite has simply been replaced by another.

The AK Party rejects those charges and says the police and judiciary are fully independent of the executive.

The case against Basbug features websites allegedly set up by the military to spread black propaganda against the government until 2008, including one titled Islamic fundamentalism.

The websites had exaggerated news headlines on the threat from fundamentalism in Turkey designed to provoke the people against the executive organ and create an atmosphere of chaos in the country, the indictment said.

During his pre-trial detention Basbug has shared a cell with two other generals at Silivri, where an extra-large courtroom has been specially built to hear Ergenekon cases and a separate alleged military plot dubbed Sledgehammer.

Police say they discovered Ergenekon when they seized a secret arms cache in 2007, yet many Turks still doubt it exists.

Basbug is a witness in the Sledgehammer case, which revolves around a 2003 seminar that prosecutors say contained blueprints for a coup. The military says it was just a war game.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Heinrich)