Thousands protest as mass Turkey coup plot trial nears end

Agence France Presse —
December 13, 2012 Thursday 4:40 PM GMT

Thousands protest as mass Turkey coup plot trial nears end

ISTANBUL, Dec 13 2012

Thousands of people protested Thursday 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

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.

Prosecutors believe Ergenekon, named after a mythical place in central
Asia believed to be the homeland of Turks, is made up of loosely
connected branches with an eventual goal of toppling the AKP
government and restructuring Turkey on a nationalist footing.

In a separate case dubbed “Sledgehammer”, more than 300 hundred active
and retired army officers, including three former generals, received
prison sentences of up to 20 years in September over a 2003 military
exercise which the same Silivri said was an undercover coup plot.

Lawyers for plaintiffs in several other criminal cases, including the
murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, also asked
for them to be consolidated with Ergenekon.

Pro-government circles have praised the Ergenekon trial as a step
towards democracy in Turkey, where the army violently overthrew three
governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

In 1997, it pressured the then Islamic-leaning prime minister
Necmettin Erbakan, the political mentor of the current premier, into
stepping down in what was popularly dubbed a “post-modern coup”

However critics have branded the trial a witch-hunt to silence the
opposition. It is one of a series of cases in which members of the
Turkish army, the second biggest in NATO, have faced prosecution for
alleged coup plots against an elected government.