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Turkey: Beşiktaş football fans on trial for plotting anti-government coup

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
Turkey: Beşiktaş football fans on trial for plotting anti-government coup

<p>Thirty-five Turkish football fans have gone on trial in Istanbul accused of trying to overthrow the government during mass protests last year.</p> <p>Prosecutors have demanded life sentences for all of them, members of a supporters’ group of major Istanbul team Beşiktaş.</p> <p>Opposition and human rights groups have castigated the trial as an abuse of the justice system by a government bent on revenge.</p> <p>Last year’s protests over the demolition of an Istanbul park grew into a nationwide wave of unrest amid a brutal police crackdown. </p> <p>At least six protesters and one police officer died and thousands of people were hurt.</p> <p>The “Çarşı” supporters, whose name derives from the Istanbul neighbourhood they come from, played a prominent role in the protests. </p> <p>An anti-police slogan chanted at matches rang out regularly and atone point Çarşı members commandeered a mechanical digger and drove it towards police lines.</p> <p>Prosecutors have cited gas masks and weapons seized from the defendants, as well as intercepted phone messages, as evidence.</p> <p>President Erdogan has vowed to hunt down the “traitors” behind the demonstrations.</p> <p>Outside the court there was <a href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/protests-mark-beginning-of-coup-plot-case-against-turkish-fan-group-carsi.aspx?PageID=238&NID=75682&NewsCatID=341" rel="external">a strong display of support for those on trial</a> as Beşiktaş fans were joined by others from rival teams as well as trade unions, politicians and activists.</p> <p>“They accuse Çarşı of attempting a coup,” said one demonstrator. “This is groundless. Çarşı is the consciousness of our people. We are here to support our friends.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch says to charge protesting football fans as enemies of the state is a “ludicrous travesty”.</p> <p>The trial comes two days after <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2014/12/15/eu-war-of-words-with-turkey-over-arrest-of-opposition-journalists/">the detention of prominent media figures sparked international condemnation</a>.</p> <p>The government insists the judiciary is independent, but that criminal elements among the protesters must be brought to justice.</p> <p>Bora Bayraktar, euronews correspondent in Istanbul said:<br /> “While the court’s verdict is uncertain, what is known is that the Çarşı fans – often proud to be ahead of their rivals – have become the first football supporters’ group to be accused of an attempted coup.”</p>