Former Turkish army chief sentenced for life in coup trial

A Turkish court yesterday sentenced a former military chief to life in prison and dozens of others including opposition members of parliament to long terms for plotting against the government, in a trial that has exposed deep divisions in the country.

Retired military chief of staff General Ilker Basbug was sentenced to life for his role in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Announcing verdicts on the nearly 300 defendants in the case, the judges also sentenced three serving parliamentarians from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to between 12 and 35 years in prison.

Prosecutors say an alleged network of secular nationalists, code-named Ergenekon, pursued extra-judicial killings and bombings in order to trigger a military coup, an example of the anti-democratic forces which Erdogan says his AK Party has fought to stamp out.

Critics, including the main opposition party, have said the charges were trumped up, aimed at stifling opposition and taming the secularist establishment which has long dominated Turkey. They say the judiciary has been subject to political influence in hearing the case.

The judges also passed life sentences on a former commander of Turkey’s prestigious First Army, a retired gendarmerie commander, the leader of the leftist Workers’ Party Dogu Perincek and high-profile journalist Tuncay Ozkan.

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