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23.10.2008 International

Turkey 'plotters' trial resumes

By Daily Guide

The trial has resumed in Turkey of 86 people charged with involvement in armed unrest and aiding a terror group. The suspects are accused of belonging to a shadowy ultra-nationalist network which allegedly plotted attacks to provoke a military coup. The trial opened on Monday but was soon adjourned amid chaos in the courtroom and protests by the suspects' backers.

The trial may revive tensions between the Islamist-rooted ruling AK Party and the secular military, analysts say.

The 2,455-page indictment holds the group - known as Ergenekon - responsible for at least two violent attacks - the bombing of a secularist newspaper in 2006 and an attack on a court the same year, in which a judge was killed.

Attacks on those key parts of the secular establishment were supposed to provoke Turkey's military into launching a coup in defence of secular interests, it is alleged.

The suspects deny the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

'Patriots'

Among the 86 suspects charged at the Silivri prison-court are retired army officers, politicians, academics and journalists.

They are alleged to be members of the Ergenekon group.

When the trial opened on Monday, the presiding judge asked spectators and reporters to leave the tiny courtroom, amid overcrowding and protests by defence lawyers that they could not work in such conditions.

Outside the courtroom, scores of demonstrators with Turkish flags held a protest rally. Many of them chanted: "The traitors are in parliament, the patriots are in prison."

As proceedings began to descend into disarray, the presiding judge decided to halt the trial.

The court then decided that it would first hear testimonies of the 46 suspects in custody, while the remaining 40 defendants - who are on bail - would give testimony in separate hearings.

It also said that only a limited number of reporters could be present in the courtroom.

On Thursday, the court is considering a demand by the defendants to replace the judges because of their alleged bias, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reports.

'Deep state'

The trial is unusual in a number of ways: the sheer size of it and the fact that the defendants include retired Turkish military officers, the BBC's Pam O'Toole says.

This is something that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, given the power of the military, which has mounted three coups since 1960 and, in 1997, eased the country's first pro-Islamist prime minister from power, our correspondent says.

Then there is the nature and scope of the charges, some of which would not seem out of place in a Hollywood thriller, she adds.

But many Turks regard the trial as the latest stage in an ongoing power struggle between Turkey's secular nationalist establishment and the governing AKP.

Some believe this trial is the AKP's revenge for an attempt to have the party closed down by the Constitutional Court; others maintain the Ergenekon network simply does not exist.

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