Turkey starts trying top military officers in landmark coup trial

A Turkish court began hearing a landmark case against some 200 soldiers, among them senior commanders, charged over an alleged 2003 plot to topple the ruling government.

Turkey starts trying top military officers in landmark coup trial

A Turkish court Thursday began hearing a landmark case against some 200 soldiers, among them senior commanders, charged over an alleged 2003 plot to topple the ruling government.

The trial started in a huge courtroom inside a prison complex in Silivri, a town near Istanbul, with a judge confirming the identities of the suspects.

The most high-profile defendants present in the courtroom were the alleged mastermind of the coup plot, retired general Cetin Dogan, as well as the former chiefs of the navy and the air force, Ozden Ornek and Ibrahim Firtina.

The Sledgehammer plot is said to have included the bombing of two major mosques in Istanbul, an attack on a military museum by people disguised as "Muslim fundamentalists" and the provocation of military tensions with neighbouring Greece.

It is alleged that these events would have thrown the country into chaos, allowing the military to declare a state of emergency and overthrow the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party.

Detentions of the suspects after the coup plans came to light were the first in Turkish history of such high-ranking officers, who were previously considered "untouchable." All of the suspects were later released until the trial.

The defendants, important figures in NATO's second biggest army, deny any conspiracy and say scenarios discussed at a military seminar seven years ago were merely a war game exercise.

On Tuesday the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) announced that it was replacing the chief judge in the Sledgehammer case because of allegations by the ministry of justice that he had ties to suspects in the Ergenekon trial, as well as connections to a drug ring and prostitution activities.

However, the timing of the chief judge's reassignment, just two days before the start of the trial, drew criticism and speculation.

Retired General Cetin Dogan, the former head of the First Army region as lead author of the coup plan is the main suspect.

"When the time comes in court for the defence I will say that this case does not have a legitimate basis," General Dogan said.

"I am very relaxed. I am on the right side and have never been on illegitimate ground. I am not a man of coups," he said before entering the court, which is located in a prison complex.

All but 10 of the defendants attended the hearing.

Hundreds of defendants, many perceived as hardline secularists, are already on trial at the same court in connection with a series of alleged coup plots allegedly orchestrated by the shadowy Ergenekon network.

The officers in the Sledgehammer case, who are not being held in custody, face jail sentences of 15-20 years if found guilty of plotting to destabilise the government.

Interest in the case was reawakened this week by a police raid on a naval base, which local media reports say led to the confiscation of documents that will be used as evidence.

The trial comes a little over six months before a parliamentary election. Erdogan is widely expected to win a third consecutive term.

The army has toppled four civilian governments since 1960.


Agencies

Last Mod: 16 Aralık 2010, 13:59
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