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Greece Refuses Turkish Extradition for 8 Accused in Coup Attempt

Turkish military officers, center, escorted by Greek police officers, arrive at the Supreme Court in Athens, Jan. 26, 2017. A group of Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in a military helicopter after last year's failed coup have appeared at Greece's Supreme Court.

Greece’s Supreme Court has rejected a request from Turkey for the extradition of eight senior servicemen who fled the country following the failed coup last July.

The eight Turkish servicemen, three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors, escaped Turkey in a helicopter July 16, the day after the failed coup. They landed in northern Greece and immediately sought political asylum.

Greece’s Supreme Court said that their rights would likely be violated given the extensive crackdown following the coup attempt – and rejected Ankara’s extradition request. Their lawyer, Christos Mylonopoulos, praised the decision.

Watch: Greece Refuses Turkish Extradition Request for Accused Servicemen

Greece Refuses Turkish Extradition Request for Accused Servicemen
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'Victory for justice'

“It was a great victory for European values, for Greek justice,” said Christos Mylonopoulos, the attorney for the servicemen. “It was not only the lives of the eight servicemen that was at stake. The dignity of the Greek judicial system was also at stake.”

Turkey insists the men were involved in the coup attempt, which it claims was orchestrated by the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to the failed coup by arresting thousands of servicemen and women, government workers, teachers and opposition groups. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their jobs.

How will Turkey respond?

Professor Tahir Abbas of the Royal United Services Institute says Erdoğan will feel pressure to respond to the Greek decision.

“These eight individuals who escaped on the night of the coup are seen to be part of the Gulenist movement, that is seemingly behind all the elements of the coup,” Abbas said. “And none of these things have been proven or are conclusive in any way whatsoever. Yet the rhetoric is very strong. And from a rhetoric point of view, this will damage (President) Erdoğan. This will be seen as a setback to his status, his persona, as projected onto the nation.”

In a statement posted online, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the two countries’ mutual ties would be subject to a comprehensive review. There are fears the decision could derail the ongoing talks on Cypriot reunification.

“Cyprus is one of those thorny subjects that is very important in Turkish national identity,” Abbas said. “And I think given the emboldened nature of Erdoğan, it’s going to be seen as another knock back if there is a victory for peace in this respect.”

Greece — and Europe — are also reliant on Ankara to uphold the agreement struck in March last year to stop the flow of migrants from Turkish shores to the Greek islands. Turkey has threatened to tear up the deal following a dispute over visa-free travel.