Ilker Basbug, the former head of the Turkish armed forces, has gone on trial for allegedly plotting to overthrow the country’s Islamist-rooted government.
Basbug, who retired as chief of staff in 2010, was arrested in January. He is the highest-ranking officer to face charges over ties to the hard-line nationalist Ergenekon network, which prosecutors say tried to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in 2003.
Hundreds of suspects, including many retired and active-duty military officers, have been rounded up by the government since probes into the group began in 2008, and are currently on trial, according to the Associated Press.
Critics say the Ergenekon investigation is a front for the rooting out of opponents of the governing Justice and Development (AKP) Party, which has Islamist roots.
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Basbug is being held at a high security prison complex at Silivri, west of Istanbul, where an extra large court room has been constructed to hear Ergenekon-related cases, the BBC reports.
Several dozen people waved Turkish flags and brandished posters of Basbug outside the complex as the trial opened on Monday, Reuters reports.
The court rejected the general’s request during the session to have his case considered by the Supreme Court, a procedure accorded to senior officials.
Basbug denies allegations that he set up websites used by the army to spread “black propaganda” against the government until 2008, and rejects charges of “establishing or administering a terrorist organization” and “seeking to unseat the government… by force.”
Immediately after his arrest in January, Basbug said: “As the Chief of the General Staff I was the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces… one of the most powerful armies in the world. We can really call it tragicomic to accuse a person commanding such an army of forming and commanding a terrorist organization.”
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Turkey’s military, which has long seen itself as the guardian of the country’s secular constitution, has viewed Erdogan and his AKP party with deep suspicion since it was first elected in 2002.
It has build up a huge majority in Turkey’s parliament since gaining power, reforming the judiciary and undermining the military’s hold over the country’s governing institutions.
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