News / Europe

Turkey Exhumes Former President's Body

Former Turkish President Turgut Ozal (file photo)
Former Turkish President Turgut Ozal (file photo)
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Dorian Jones
— Turkey is exhuming the body of former president Turgut Ozal for a probe into his April 1993 death. Officially Ozal died of a heart attack, but controversy about the circumstances of his death persist.

Early Tuesday, the deputy public prosecutor, senior forensic officials, and a bomb disposal team were at the Istanbul mausoleum where President Ozal is buried.

The head of Istanbul's forensic department Haluk Ince said a thorough inquiry would be carried out.

He said the pieces of bones and whatever flesh is left, will be examined to see if there is any traumatic or any pathological findings, and samples will be taken for toxicological analysis, including from the earth surrounding the grave. He added that investigators would do their best, knowing time is not on their side.

According to Ince, the findings will not be ready for at least two months. His exhumation follows an official report in June that concluded the death was suspicious.  Semra Ozal, the former president's wife, has been in the forefront of demanding an investigation.

She believes her husband was poisoned by "a poison that is like a time bomb".  She said she was not there when he drank lemonade, and that if she had been there she would not have allowed him to drink it.

Despite being president, no autopsy was carried out after Ozal's death. Officials at the time claim the decision was made in respect to family wishes -- a claim disputed by family members.

President Ozal is widely considered as one the country's most important political figures, first as prime minister and then president. He led Turkey out of an era of military rule following the 1980 coup. He often challenged the then-powerful generals, which experts say made him dangerous enemies.

In 1988 a gunman attempted to assassinate Ozal while addressing a political rally, but went on to complete his speech. Ozal's family claimed he was subject to several other attempts on his life.

The charismatic leader also challenged other political taboos.  At the time of his death he was seeking to open talks with the Kurdish rebel group the PKK. He also liberalized the Turkish economy, which observers say laid the foundations for the country's present economic prosperity. 

But some critics accuse him of releasing unbridled corruption during his rule.

Observers say the investigation will seek to resolve one of greatest political mysteries of the country, as well as helping to close a period characterized by violence and assassinations.

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