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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Almost 150 go on trial over Turkey coup bridge massacre

The bridge across the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul was the scene of bloody fighting between Mr Erdogan's supporters and renegade soldiers seeking to oust the elected government on the night of July 15, 2016

An unidentified soldier accused of attempting to assassinate Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the failed July 15 coup last year is escorted by gendarmes as he leaves from the final hearing of the trial in Mugla, Turkey, on October 4, 2017. Osman Orsal / Reuters
An unidentified soldier accused of attempting to assassinate Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the failed July 15 coup last year is escorted by gendarmes as he leaves from the final hearing of the trial in Mugla, Turkey, on October 4, 2017. Osman Orsal / Reuters

Almost 150 former Turkish military personnel went on trial on Monday over clashes on an Istanbul bridge during last year's failed coup that claimed dozens of lives including a key aide of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The bridge across the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul was the scene of bloody fighting between Mr Erdogan's supporters and renegade soldiers seeking to oust the elected government on the night of July 15, 2016.

It was later renamed by the government as July 15 Martyrs' Bridge.

The dead included Mr Erdogan's campaign manager Erol Olcok and his 16-year-old son Abdullah Tayyip, who were killed when soldiers opened fire on protesters on the bridge which connects Asia and Europe.

Erol Olcok had named his son after Mr Erdogan and his predecessor as president, Abdullah Gul.

A total of 143 suspects, including 30 officers, will appear in court. All the suspects bar eight are being held under arrest.

They are accused of crimes ranging from murder to attempting to overthrow the parliament and the government, according to the 1,052-page indictment.

If convicted, the suspects each face 37 life sentences, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Monday's trial is one of several legal processes seeking to bring to justice those believed to have played a role in the coup bid which left 249 people dead, not including the putschists.

Last week, a court in southwestern Turkey handed life sentences to 40 people convicted of plotting to assassinate Mr Erdogan at an Aegean hotel.

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Mr Erdogan has vowed to purge all state institutions to clean the "virus" of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen whom his government blames for the putsch.

The cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied any involvement.

Over 50,000 people have been arrested since last July, accused of links to the Gulen movement, while more than 140,000 public sector employees have been sacked or suspended.

Many civilians rushed to the bridge on the night of the coup, heeding Mr Erdogan's call to quash the putsch bid, but the renegade soldiers then shot at them.

Thirty-four civilians and seven coup plotters were killed on the Bosphorus bridge, according to the indictment.

But by the early morning hours, the soldiers surrendered to police, laying down their arms on the bridge and raising their hands in an enduring image of the coup's defeat.

Mr Erdogan attended the funeral of the Olcoks and others two days after the coup bid, weeping openly in a rare show of emotion.