ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court convicted the former army chief and dozens of generals, journalists and academics on charges of plotting to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, with several getting life sentences.
The court near Istanbul sentenced Ilker Basbug, chief of general staff until 2010, and retired generals Hursit Tolon and Veli Kucuk to life in prison, state-run TRT television said. Tuncay Ozkan, a writer and broadcaster, also got a life sentence while Mustafa Balbay, a journalist who was elected to parliament from behind bars, received 34 years, TRT said.
The court ruled the suspects were members of a terrorist organization called Ergenekon. Under Turkish law, those convicted of terrorism charges must serve three-fourths of their terms before they can be released on parole. The court said 21 suspects out of the total of about 275 were acquitted, while withholding a ruling on two fugitive defendants later. Details of the verdict are still being read out.
The Ergenekon verdict is the culmination of a six-year probe. Erdogan’s party says it’s part of the process of democratizing a country where the army has ousted four elected governments since 1960. Opponents say it shows the Islamist- rooted premier’s intolerance of dissent and the widening net that authorities are using to catch critics.
The lira weakened 0.3 percent to 1.9302 per dollar at 2:30 p.m. in Istanbul as the court verdict was still being read out.
Erdogan’s government, which has roots in Islamist movements, has curbed the secular army’s sway over politics since coming to power in November 2002.
A separate case, called “Sledgehammer,” resulted in the conviction of about 330 officers in September last year. Together, the trials have decimated the military leadership and virtually eliminated its political influence.
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