A Turkish court has begun returning verdicts on nearly 300 defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the government, handing prison sentences of up to 20 years to some and acquitting others.
General Ilker Basbug, retired chief of staff of the Turkish military, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the Ergenekon conspiracy to overthrow the government of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Gen Ilker Basbug was among dozens of people convicted of involvement in the so-called Ergenekon plot.
Other retired high-ranking military officers were sentenced, including Dursun Cicek. The retired Navy colonel also got a life sentence, according to Turkish media
As the court began reading the sentences, police intervened in a crowd of roughly 1,000 people protesting the proceeding. Police tried to disperse crowds with water cannons, paint balls and tear gas. Sparks from tear gas canisters on dry grass started a fire.
The Ergenekon trials are based on a belief that there is a lingering “deep state”, said to be a network of army officers, business leaders, secularists and arch-nationalists who seek to undermine and even overthrow elected governments.
The heavy sentences given to retired military officers are another sign that the Erdogan administration has changed the nature of the relationship between civilian governments and the military. For decades the military was the final arbiter in Turkish politics. Between 1960 and 1997, the armed forces removed four civilian governments. But Mr Erdogan has asserted civilian supremacy over the military.
”This is Erdogan’s trial. It is his theatre,” Umut Oran, an MP with the opposition CHP party, said at the court. “In the 21st century for a country that wants to become a full member of the European Union, this obvious political trial has no legal basis.”
The government’s control over Nato’s second largest army was clearly illustrated on Saturday, when Ankara appointed new military commanders in an overhaul of its top ranks, forcing the retirement of a senior general regarded as a government critic.