'President Erdogan assassination plot' trial opens in Turkey
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A trial of almost 50 suspects accused of plotting to assassinate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the botched July 15 coup opened Monday in southern Turkey.
Forty-four suspects -- mainly soldiers -- face possible life sentences on charges that include attempted assassination, overthrow of the constitutional order and other crimes against the state during the 2016 coup attempt.
“Most of them are soldiers up to the rank of brigadier general, three of them are still at large, including the number one accused, Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and who is alleged to be the mastermind of the July 15 coup attempt,” explained FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer, reporting from the southwestern Turkish city of Mugla.
The trial is being held in Mugla, near Marmaris, at a trade center building which has been turned into a temporary court because the actual courthouse was too small for such a high-profile case.
The defendants are accused of attacking a hotel in the resort city of Marmaris where Erdogan was staying on the night of the coup, killing two policemen.
Erdogan had left the hotel shortly before it was stormed.
The suspects -- several smartly dressed in suits and ties -- were led into the courthouse Monday by security forces before television cameras to whistles and shouts of derision from pro-government demonstrators holding Turkish flags and placards calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Around 43,000 people have been arrested attempt in a massive post-coup crackdown that has raised international concerns.
The US-based cleric has vehemently denied allegations that he masterminded the coup plot or was in any way connected to the events of July 15.
‘There are snipers on the building’
While Erdogan’s government maintains that the Gulenist movement represents an existential threat to the Turkish state, the country has faced threats and terror attacks from numerous groups including the Islamic State (IS) group and Kurdish leftists angered over the collapse of a peace process between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the government.
Given the multiple threats Turkey faces, security was tight around the courthouse, according to Mortimer.
“There are snipers on the building behind me,” said FRANCE 24's Mortimer, reporting from outside the courthouse.
“Turkey is facing an insurgency waged by Kurdish and Islamist groups, we’ve got a referendum [to change the constitution] coming up in two months. President Erdogan has always said that the coup-makers were Gulenists. It suits him politically to be able to say that Fethullah Gulen was behind this coup. But a European Union intelligence unit reported that Gulen was unlikely to have the capacity to stage this coup. Instead, the European Union intelligence unit says there were three groups of soldiers involved, one of whom were Gulenists. But others were secular soldiers, followers of [Turkey’s founding father Mustapha Kemal] Ataturk, who just thought that Erdogan was taking the country in the wrong direction, and the third group of soldiers who were opportunistic. They thought if their commanders were thrown in jail they would get promotions,” Mortimer explained.
Some of the defendants have denied the charges, insisting they were led to believe they were taking part in a drill.
“What would be interesting in this trial is if some of the 44 defendants who are in the dock here go into the witness box and say they are not Gulenists,” said Mortimer. “The government will not be very happy with that.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)