Gov­ern­ment holds mass trial of sus­pected rebels


ANKARA, TUR­KEY | Tur­key put nearly 500 peo­ple on trial Tues­day on charges of lead­ing last year’s failed coup, parad­ing dozens of the men into a court­house as protesters threw stones and shouted “Mur­der­ers!”

The trial is part of a post-coup crackdown by the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan that has im­pris­oned 50,000 peo­ple and seen an­other 110,000 fired from their gov­ern­ment jobs. Many of the sus­pects Tues­day face life in prison for crimes in­clud­ing mur­der and at­tempt­ing to over­throw the gov­ern­ment.

The main de­fen­dant in the case, U.S.based cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, whom the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment blames for the deadly July 15, 2016, coup, is be­ing tried in ab­sen­tia. Mr. Gulen has de­nied in­volve­ment.

The other de­fen­dants in­clude gen­er­als and fighter jet pilots at the Ak­inci air base, on the out­skirts of Ankara, the cap­i­tal, who are ac­cused of di­rect­ing the coup and bomb­ing key gov­ern­ment build­ings, in­clud­ing the par­lia­ment.

The trial, which is ex­pected to last at least a month, is one of dozens un­der­way in Tur­key in re­la­tion to the coup at­tempt that re­sulted in 249 deaths. Some 30 coup-plot­ters were also killed.

The gov­ern­ment says those who plot­ted the coup used Ak­inci air base as their head­quar­ters. Tur­key’s mil­i­tary chief, Gen. Hu­lusi Akar, and other com­man­ders were held cap­tive for sev­eral hours at the base on the night of the coup.

On Tues­day a group of 41 de­fen­dants were made to march from their jail to a court­house that was spe­cially built at a prison com­plex to try the coup plot­ters. They were hand­cuffed, with two para­mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cers on each arm, and pro­tected by armed special force of­fi­cers.

About 300 peo­ple — in­clud­ing some fam­i­lies of those killed or wounded dur­ing the coup at­tempt and rul­ing party sup­port­ers — staged a protest Tues­day at the site. Some threw ropes to­ward the de­fen­dants, de­mand­ing that the gov­ern­ment re­in­state the death penalty and that those con­victed be hanged. Oth­ers threw stones or tried to break through po­lice lines to reach the sus­pects, shout­ing “Mur­der­ers!”

One group of protesters tried to climb over a barbed wire fence scream­ing “Let the traitors hang!” and “We want the death penalty!” but were blocked by po­lice. A to­tal of 1,300 se­cu­rity per­son­nel were de­ployed in­side and out­side the court­room.

Mr. Er­do­gan and Gen. Akar, the mil­i­tary chief, sub­mit­ted pe­ti­tions re­quest­ing to be named as plain­tiffs in the case, the state-run Anadolu Agency re­ported.

A to­tal of 461 de­fen­dants are be­hind bars while 18 were freed pend­ing the out­come of the trial. Seven oth­ers, in­clud­ing Mr. Gulen and an al­leged top op­er­a­tive in his move­ment, are still wanted by the Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties and are be­ing tried in ab­sen­tia.

Gen. Akin Oz­turk, a for­mer com­man­der of the Turk­ish air force, is also on trial in a separate case, ac­cused of be­ing a rin­gleader of the coup.

Mr. Er­do­gan has re­ceived crit­i­cism for his harsh re­sponse to the coup, with some say­ing he has used the upris­ing to in­crease his own po­lit­i­cal power and to purge op­po­nents from the gov­ern­ment, academia and the me­dia. Both the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion have so far re­sisted Ankara’s de­mand that Mr. Gulen be ex­tra­dited to Tur­key to face charges for his al­leged role in the coup.

Mr. Er­do­gan has de­clared a state of emer­gency in the coun­try, ar­gu­ing the purge is needed to root out a deep-seated net­work of coup sup­port­ers tied to Mr. Gulen, a one­time ally of the pres­i­dent un­til they broke po­lit­i­cally in 2013.

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