Turkish military coup trial nears verdict

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 06, 2012 7:11 AM
Turkish military coup trial nears verdict

By Ece Toksabay

SILIVRI, Turkey (Reuters) - The trial of hundreds of Turkish military officers accused of plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government appeared to be approaching a conclusion on Monday after a state prosecutor called for the court to move to a verdict.

The prosecutor's call raised the prospect of a rapid end to the two-year-old "Sledgehammer" trial, which has tarnished the standing of the once all-powerful military.

A guilty verdict would underline the growing civilian dominance over the generals.

Prosecutors have demanded 15-20 year jail sentences for the 364 serving and retired officers in the case, which revolves around a 2003 military seminar that prosecutors say was part of a plot to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government.

The conspiracy is alleged to have included plans to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul and trigger conflict with Greece to pave the way for an army takeover.

The Turkish army has traditionally played a dominant role in politics, staging three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pushing the country's first Islamist-led government out of office in 1997.

But its authority has been reined in sharply since Erdogan first came to power nearly a decade ago.

Public interest in a series of anti-government conspiracy cases has waned recently as the trials have dragged on amid growing suspicion among government critics that they were being used to crack down on dissent.

The prosecutor recommended in June that the case be referred back to the prosecutor's office, raising the possibility of a retrial. But he said on Monday this would unnecessarily lengthen pre-verdict detention periods of 250 officers held on remand.

"The prosecution does not demand the transfer of the case and advises the court to proceed to the ruling stage in line with the prosecutor's final opinion presented previously," prosecutor Huseyin Kaplan said.

The call to transfer the case was triggered by a defence lawyers' boycott of the hearings in protest against the court's refusal to consider forensic evidence in defence of their clients.

The court called a recess to consider the prosecutor's comments and defence lawyer Celal Ulgen said he expected the court to agree with the prosecutor that the case need not be transferred and may reach a verdict on Monday.

The latest hearing followed a decision by the Turkish armed forces to retire of all 40 generals and admirals jailed facing charges of conspiring against the government.

A former Turkish military chief told another court on Friday that the 2003 war game central to the prosecution had gone too far in using real politicians' names and that he had raised his concerns at the time.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan)