Europe

Turkey's 1980 military coup leaders stand trial

Leftist activists hold rally outside Ankara courthouse, 4 Apr 12
Image caption Leftist activists demanded justice and more prosecutions for army abuses

The two surviving leaders of Turkey's 1980 military coup have gone on trial charged with overthrowing the civilian government.

Gen Kenan Evren, 94, who was president from 1983-89, and Gen Tahsin Sahinkaya, 86, are the first Turkish officers to face trial for staging a coup.

Neither appeared in the Ankara court on Wednesday owing to poor health.

Hundreds of demonstrators, mainly leftists, rallied outside the courthouse demanding justice.

Some 600,000 people were detained after the coup. Many were tortured and 50 executed by hanging while hundreds more were told they would face the death penalty.

A constitutional clause granting the generals immunity from prosecution was overturned after a referendum in 2010.

Prosecutors are seeking life terms for both men.

However, the BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says they will not go to prison because of their age and frail health.

The Turkish prosecutor's office said the court in Ankara could hear the men's testimonies via video link.

Gen Evren's indictment carries great symbolic significance in Turkey, our correspondent says, demonstrating how far the balance of power has shifted away from the once untouchable military establishment.

'Milestone'

The AK Party government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the parliament have applied to be co-plaintiffs in the trial, asking for their grievances against the coup leaders to be taken into account.

Image caption Kenan Evren has said he would rather commit suicide than stand trial

"This case is a milestone for Turkish democracy," said Selcuk Ozdag, an MP from the AK Party. "It is the result of the government's political will."

Leftist activists outside the courthouse said they wanted other military commanders involved in the coup to be put on trial too.

Many photos of activists killed or tortured by the military at the time were displayed at the rally.

Some Turkish nationalists also demonstrated, displaying the names of nationalists executed after the coup.

In 2010, Gen Evren - Turkey's seventh president - said that he would rather commit suicide than go on trial.

He argued that the army's action had saved Turkey from rising street violence involving left-wing and right-wing groups.

When challenged over the execution of a teenage student Gen Evren replied: "Should we feed them in prison for years, instead of hanging them?"

Turkish media say the general recently underwent intestinal surgery and reports on Tuesday said he had also broken an arm.

The 1980 military overthrow was the last and bloodiest of Turkey's coups. The others took place in 1960 and 1971, although the military also forced out a coalition government in 1997.

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