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Turkey Simmers Over Controversial Verdicts

  • Zlatica Hoke

Discontent is boiling anew in Turkey after a court convicted senior army officers, politicians, writers and others of plotting to overthrow the government. Supporters of the 275 defendants say the verdicts are part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's campaign to eliminate his enemies.

Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon Monday to disperse protesters outraged to find that the road to a courthouse in Silivri, near Istanbul, was blocked by security forces.
Retired general Ilker Basbug, former chief of the country's armed forces, was convicted of involvement in the Ergenekon plot, named after a mythical homeland of Turks. He and at least five other senior officers were sentenced to life in prison.
Turkish parliament member Akif Hamzacebi condemned the verdict.
"This is a menace to the army of the Republic of Turkey. This is not acceptable," he said. "If you are trying someone who has been the commander of the Turkish armed forces for being a member of a terrorist organization, that means you are targeting and trying the army of the Republic of Turkey. This nation won't accept it. As the Republican People's Party [CHP], we are not accepting it."
The five-year trial involving 275 people has divided public opinion. Critics accuse the government of using the case to silence dissenters, and supporters call it a victory for democracy because it sidelines the military. Turkey's army has ousted four governments since 1960.

Government spokesman Bulent Arinc urged the public Monday to respect the verdicts against senior officers, lawyers, writers and journalists.
"Amongst them, there are names who are really well known by the public, there are some people who served as chief of staff in army, some rectors, and even some high level bureaucrats," he noted. "But this is a fact of the judiciary system that no one has any privilege to commit a crime. The court gave the best decision according to itself and we will see the upcoming phases. We are not becoming happy or clapping as anyone is being arrested but there is verdict and we must respect it"
Turkey has been the scene of mass protests since June, sparked by a government decision to turn a central Istanbul park into a commercial complex. Many Turks are concerned about what they see as the increasingly authoritarian rule of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.