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FACTDROP: 326 in Turkey are convicted in military coup plot


326 in Turkey are convicted in military coup plot

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks after he received Al Quds University's honorary doctorate from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, unseen, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012.
Πηγή: STL today
Sept 22 2012

ANKARA, Turkey • A Turkish court convicted on Friday 326 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, of plotting to overthrow the nation's Islamic-based government in 2003, in a case that has helped curtail the military's hold on politics.

A panel of three judges at the court on Istanbul's outskirts initially sentenced former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former army commander Cetin Dogan to life imprisonment but later reduced the sentence to a 20-year jail term because the plot had been unsuccessful, state-run TRT television reported. The three were accused of masterminding the plot.

The court also convicted 323 other active or retired officers, including a former general elected to Parliament a year ago— of involvement in the conspiracy, sentencing some to as much as 18 years in prison. Thirty-six were acquitted, while the case against three other defendants was postponed.

The officers were all expected to appeal the verdicts.

The trial of the high-ranking officers — inconceivable in Turkey a decade ago — has helped significantly to tip the balance of power in the country in favor of civilian authorities.

Turkey's generals have staged three coups since the 1960s and forced an Islamist government to quit in 1997.

But the current government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown ever more confident with each of its three electoral successes since 2002, and has been limiting the powers of the armed forces which have long seen themselves as the guardians of Turkey's secular traditions.

Erdogan's government has hailed the trial, which began in December 2010, and other similar ones as a break with a tradition of impunity and a move toward greater democracy.

However, the officers' case — dubbed "Sledgehammer" after the alleged conspiracy — has been marred by the suspects' long confinement without a verdict and some judicial flaws, including allegations of fabricated evidence. The government's secular critics have denounced the coup plot trials as a ploy to intimidate opponents.

Some defense lawyers have refused to appear in court for the past five months, saying the authenticity of some of the evidence was not investigated.

Erdogan said he hoped Friday's verdict was a "just" one but refused to comment further, saying that he had not seen the reasoning behind the verdicts and that the proceedings against the military officers were not over yet.

"We have to see the appeals phase," Erdogan said. "The final dot has not been placed yet. The process is continuing."

Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said: "We all hope that no anti-democratic initiative ever occurs in our country again."

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