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Turkey sentences 24 to life in ‘coup leaders’ trial

ANKARA: A Turkish court on Thursday gave life sentences to 24 people including senior military officers in one of the biggest trials over the 2016 failed bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The judge handed 17 of those sentenced 141 aggravated life terms each over the deaths of 139 people, for “violating the constitution” and “attempting to assassinate the president”, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Seven others were given between one and 17 aggravated life sentences each, according to Anadolu.

Such sentences carry harsher prison conditions.

More sentences are expected to be handed down on Thursday against others among the 224 suspects on trial.

Among them is US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of ordering the attempted putsch which left hundreds dead and thousands more injured in July 2016.

Gulen strongly denies the claims. Turkey has failed to secure his extradition.

Former air force chief Akin Ozturk and Mehmet Disli, the brother of former ruling party lawmaker Saban Disli, who since September has served as Turkey’s ambassador to the Netherlands, were among the 17.

One suspect, Lieutenant Colonel Levent Turkkan, who was the aide to then Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar, was given one aggravated life sentence, Anadolu reported. Akar was appointed defence minister in July 2018.

There was a tense atmosphere minutes before the judge issued his verdicts with dozens of people including relatives of those killed during the coup bid in July 2016, lambasting the court for not allowing them to enter.

Saliha Arigan, whose son was killed on the night of the failed overthrow, pressed herself against the gates, crying and shouting to be allowed inside.

“The state should be ashamed,” she said. Even as the verdicts were handed down, the strained mood continued with further attempts by individuals to enter the courtroom complex by force.

An AFP correspondent was not allowed to enter the courtroom by police.

Erdogan aide given life

The trial began in May 2017 in the country’s largest courtroom inside a prison complex in Sincan, outside the capital Ankara.

The court also handed down an aggravated life sentence for “violating the constitution” to Colonel Ali Yazici, Erdogan’s former military aide, Anadolu reported.

Yazici was already sentenced to 18 years in jail in 2017 after a trial of dozens who plotted to assassinate Erdogan at a luxury Aegean hotel during the coup attempt.

Former brigadier general Gokhan Sahin Sonmezates, who was suspected of leading the assassination attempt against Erdogan on the night of the coup bid, was given 137 aggravated life sentences and a 540-year prison sentence, Anadolu said.

The judge ordered the case of 13 fugitives including Gulen to be separated from the main coup ringleaders’ trial.

Of the suspects, 176 were in jail while 35 had been free pending trial, according to Anadolu.

The failed overthrow left 248 people dead, according to the Turkish presidency, not including 24 coup-plotters killed on the night.

Dozens of those on trial were accused of being members of the “Peace At Home Council”, the name the plotters apparently gave themselves on the night of the coup attempt.

Since July 2016, tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to the coup bid under a two-year state of emergency which ended last year.

But nationwide raids by police have continued and there are almost daily reports of public prosecutors issuing detention warrants for suspects over Gulen ties.

Nearly 290 coup-linked court cases have been launched, 261 of which ended with 3,239 defendants convicted, according to justice ministry figures given to AFP before the verdicts.

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