Thousands protest as Turkey coup plot trial nears end

December 14, 2012 - 6:16:56 am

ISTANBUL: Thousands of people protested yesterday outside a Turkish prison complex where the mass trial of almost 300 people accused of plotting to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan entered its closing stages.

Police used tear gas to prevent large crowds from bursting into the heavily-guarded Silivri compound near Istanbul where 275 defendants including former military chief Ilker Basbug have been on trial for four years in the so-called Ergenekon case.

“We are the soldiers of Ataturk!” the protesters chanted, referring to the founder of secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose legacy has been fiercely defended by the staunchly secular army in the Nato member state. The defendants face dozens of charges, ranging from membership of an underground “terrorist organisation” dubbed Ergenekon, arson, illegal possession of weapons and instigating an armed uprising against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002. 

The defendants in the case - seen as a key test in Erdogan’s showdown with secularist and military opponents - include Basbug and other army officers as well as lawyers, academics and journalists.

“Today they label everybody a coup maker... they will continue until no patriots are left here,” said Emine Ulker Tarhan, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republic People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker.

Inside the courtroom, arguments between lawyers and the judge over procedure forced lengthy delays throughout the day although the hearing was expected to include the final summing up from the state prosecutor. One defence lawyer was thrown out for saying: “The defence wants its right to speak!” The 2,455-page indictment accuses members of Ergenekon - an alleged shadowy network of ultranationalists trying to seize control in Turkey - of a string of attacks and political violence over several decades.

They include a shooting at Turkey’s top administrative court in 2006 which killed a judge and which the state prosecutor believes was instigated by a retired general, and a grenade attack against the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper’s Istanbul headquarters the same year blamed on the then army command.AFP