A Turkish court near Istanbul has begun the sentencing of almost 300 people accused of plotting to overthrow the government as part of an anti-government secularist ring.
The defendants include a number of top ex-military personnel, journalists, businessmen and academics.
Retired General Veli Küçük and former armed forces commander Ilker Basbug, key suspects in the trial were both handed a life sentence, as was prominent journalist Tuncay Özkan. Twenty one others have been acquitted.
Tthe judges also sentenced three serving parliamentarians from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to between 12 and 35 years in prison.
Prosecutors maintain the network – code-named Ergenekon – kept up a campaign of killings and bombings to trigger a military coup against Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They have called for life sentences for 64 of the defendants.
“We are Mustafa Kemal’s soldiers,” the defendants and defence lawyers chanted in reference to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern secular republic.
“Damn the AKP,” they chanted of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.
The case has polarised opinion across Turkey and critics – including the main opposition party – claim they have not been given a fair trial and the charges are politically motivated.
“This is Erdogan’s trial, it is his theatre,” Umut Oran, a parliamentarian with the opposition CHP party, said at the courthouse.
“In the 21st century for a country that wants to become a full member of the European Union, this obvious political trial has no legal basis,” he added.
Erdogan has denied interfering in the legal process, stressing the judiciary’s independence.
Tension around the court
Euronews correspondent Bora Bayraktar outside the courthouse reports: “The Ergenekon trial is one of the country’s most important cases. As the trial has begun and verdicts for the defendants are being released, the tension between security forces and those wantıng to enter the court is slowly increasing.”
Earlier, security forces fired tear gas in fields around the courthouse in the Silivri jail complex, west of Istanbul, as defendants’ supporters gathered to protest against the five-year trial.
With main access roads shut and protesters’ buses prevented from reaching the area, hundreds of them tried to cross fields to reach the court and prison complex, but police with riot shields blocked their advance.