Turkish general's trial interrupted as friend faints

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2012 8:05 AM
Turkish general's trial interrupted as friend faints

By Ece Toksabay

SILIVRI, Turkey (Reuters) - The terrorism trial of former Turkish armed forces commander Ilker Basbug was halted briefly on Thursday when a family friend first fainted in the courtroom, then regained consciousness, shouting "the Pasha (general) must walk free!"

The retired general is accused of being among the leaders of an alleged nationalist network, known as Ergenekon, behind plots to topple the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Basbug has denounced the trial, part of a complex of investigations that has seen some 400 military and civilians arrested, as a stain on Turkey's history. On Tuesday, he walked out of the courtroom briefly in protest, rejecting the judges' authority to try him.

After a one day adjournment, proceedings had barely got underway on Thursday when a middle-aged man among the spectators, later identified as a Basbug family friend, collapsed.

As people gathered around to help him, Basbug rushed to the rail separating defendants from the public area.

"Is it his blood pressure?" Basbug asked urgently.

Appearing to regain consciousness, he called out in support of the "pasha", the old Ottoman title used to describe the generals, long held in some affection as the ultimate guarantors of Turkish stability.

"The pasha must walk free!" the man shouted, still on the floor. "How can this be done to a chief of staff? These courts will apologies in the end, they should be ashamed!" he shouted, prompting Basbug's wife to admonish him for causing a scene.

'BLACK PROPAGANDA'

Basbug, dressed in a black suit with a Turkish flag pin in his lapel, appeared to have tears in his eyes as he looked on while a doctor administered first aid to his friend before he was stretchered to an ambulance.

After a brief recess the hearing resumed.

The Pashas' power has been sharply curtailed under Erdogan, who in his lifetime has seen four governments toppled by the army. Erdogan's supporters view the 'taming' of the military as essential to democracy, while skeptics see him as an authoritarian figure pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.

Basbug is accused of running "black propaganda" websites against the government during his time as military chief.

The alleged Ergenekon conspiracy involved plans for a campaign of disinformation, bombings and assassinations intended to pave the way for an army coup against Erdogan. Erdogan once served a jail sentence for religious incitement but denies that his AK Party, which includes nationalists and centre-right elements as well as religious conservatives, seeks to create an Islamist state.

The trial has been eventful from the start. In his opening statement the retired general said he would refuse to answer questions, declaring the trial a "comedy" and a "black stain" on the country's history.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ralph Boulton)