ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ The Turkish military on Friday dismissed 44 officers suspected of sympathizing with Islamic groups or Kurdish rebels.

Turkey's reformist president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, approved the military's decision despite his past opposition to such purges.

Sezer, a former judge who has advocated greater democracy since coming to power in May, had previously spoken against the military's annual purge, saying the officers don't have the right to appeal.

Sezer gave no reason for his decision.

The military has staged three coups since 1960 and its power is rarely challenged in Turkey. The role of the president is largely ceremonial.

A statement released Friday by the military said the 44 officers had been ousted for ``undisciplined'' behavior. Media reports said most had been sacked for suspected links to Islamic groups. Their ranks were not known.

The dismissals come at a time when Sezer is facing pressure to veto a government decree which would sack thousands of civil servants also suspected of sympathizing with Kurdish separatism or political Islam.

Trade unions and the main opposition pro-Islamic Virtue Party are calling on him to stand against the decree which they say is undemocratic.

The staunchly pro-secular military has been pressuring the government to crack down against political Islam, which it regards as one of the greatest threats against the country.

The military has sacked hundreds of officers since 1996.

Meanwhile, the military promoted 60-year-old Gen. Hilmi Ozkok to commander of the land forces, a usual stepping stone to the post of chief of staff. Chief of Staff Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu is due to retire in 2002.

Ozkok replaces now retired Gen. Atilla Ates whose veiled threats of military action against Syria in 1998 forced Damascus to oust Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan from his longtime refuge there. Ocalan is now on death row in a Turkish prison.