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Former Turkish Army Chief Jailed for Life

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A Turkish court has sentenced a former army chief to life in prison and dozens of others to long jail terms for an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the country's Islamist government.

Retired general Ilker Basbug, who served as chief of the Turkish armed forces' general staff, was the most prominent defendant among some 275 people facing verdicts Monday for their roles in the so-called "Ergenekon" conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

The lead suspect in the trial, former brigadier general Veli Kucuk, and at least 10 others, received life terms. Judges also sentenced three serving members of parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party to between 12 and 35 years in prison while acquitting 21 others.

The defendants in the landmark and divisive case include military officers, politicians, academics and journalists.

Prosecutors say a network of secular nationalists, code-named Ergenekon, pursued extra-judicial killings and bombings in order to trigger a military coup.

The five-year trial exposed deep tensions between the Turkey's secular elite and Mr. Erdogan's Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party.



Critics, including the main opposition party, have said the charges were falsified, aimed at stifling opposition. They say the judiciary was subjected to political influence in the case.

Earlier, security forces fired tear gas in fields around the courthouse at the Silivri jail complex, west of Istanbul, as defendants' supporters attempted to protest against the trial.

The international community has voiced concern about the trial.

The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report cited the prolonged pretrial detention of many of the defendants. Human Rights Watch has also criticized the case, saying there are serious concerns about the fairness of the trial.

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