ISTANBUL — A court yesterday convicted Turkey’s former military chief of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced him to life in prison. Retired General Ilker Basbug was the most prominent defendant among about 250 people facing verdicts in a landmark trial regarding a coup plot that allegedly was hatched soon after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government came to power in 2002.
At least 16 other defendants were sentenced yesterday to life in prison, including 10 retired military officers, while 60 other defendants received sentences ranging from a year to 47 years, according to state-run TRT television news. At least 21 people were acquitted.
The verdicts were capping a five-year trial that has generated tension between the country’s secular elite and Erdogan’s Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party.
The trial has sparked some protests. Yesterday, police blocked hundreds of demonstrators from reaching the courthouse in Silivri, 40km west of Istanbul, in a show of solidarity with the defendants. There were some reports of clashes. But the verdicts were not expected to set off weeks of violent anti-government demonstrations such as the ones recently sparked by a government plan to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks at a park near Istanbul’s central Taksim Square.
The defendants were accused of plotting high-profile attacks that prosecutors said were aimed at sowing chaos in Turkey to prepare the way for a military coup. The prosecutions already have helped Erdogan’s government reshape Turkey’s military and assert civilian control in a country that had seen three military coups since 1960.
The defendants were accused of being part of an alleged ultranationalist and pro-secular gang called Ergenekon, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of Turks.— AP.