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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Almost 500 appear in court in Turkey's biggest coup trial yet

People at the court outside Ankara chanted 'We want the death penalty!' and some threw nooses towards the suspects

This photo taken on May 23, 2017 shows Turkish Gendarmerie escorting defendants Akin Ozturk and others allegedly involved in last July’s attempted coup in Turkey as they leave the prison, where they are being held, ahead of their trial in Ankara. AFP / Adem Altan
This photo taken on May 23, 2017 shows Turkish Gendarmerie escorting defendants Akin Ozturk and others allegedly involved in last July’s attempted coup in Turkey as they leave the prison, where they are being held, ahead of their trial in Ankara. AFP / Adem Altan

Nearly 500 people appeared in court on Tuesday in the biggest trial yet of suspects from Turkey's failed coup, facing charges of conspiring to oust the government from an airbase seen as the plotters' hub.

Forty-one of those held were marched into the court outside Ankara one-by-one in a long line in front of television cameras and the public, with each suspect held by two members of the Turkish gendarmerie and flanked by an armed soldier.

People chanted "We want the death penalty!" and some threw nooses towards the suspects. The death penalty has been abolished in Turkey since 2004.

There were also chants of "Martyrs don't die, the nation won't be divided". Some people threw water bottles.

Nazan Aytop, who came to court to make sure the blood of the 249 victims of the coup "was not given in vain", said she hoped the "accused will be given the sentence they deserve".

A total of 486 suspects have been indicted in the case and almost all — a total of 461 — are held in custody while seven are still on the run and the remainder charged but not in jail.

During the tense opening hearing, veterans and relatives of those killed on the night of the coup attempt booed the suspects' lawyers, Turkey's Dogan news agency reported.

Some lawyers hit tables to protest the "physical intervention" by some of the victims' families as they walked past them, the agency said.

The suspects are accused of running the coup bid from the Akinci airbase north-west of the capital, which the authorities regard as the headquarters of the plotters where orders were sent out for fighter jets to bomb parliament.

They are charged with crimes ranging from murder, violating the constitution and attempting to kill president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

If convicted, they face life imprisonment.

Among the main suspects named in the indictment but still on the run is US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of ordering the attempted putsch on July 15 last year.

Mr Gulen, who is based in a secluded compound in the US state of Pennsylvania, strongly denies the charges.

Those held in custody include former air force chief Akin Ozturk who, like several suspects, is also on trial in another case related to the coup bid.

Another chief suspect is theology lecturer Adil Oksuz, who Turkish officials accuse of being the so-called "imam" of the plot by co-ordinating the action on the ground in Turkey with Mr Gulen.

Businessman Kemal Batmaz is meanwhile accused of assisting Mr Oksuz.

Mr Oksuz was detained following the defeat of the attempted coup, but was subsequently released and is now on the run. Mr Batmaz is in custody in Sincan prison outside Ankara.

The businessman led the line of suspects into court wearing a cream shirt with black trousers followed by Mr Ozturk wearing a grey shirt and black trousers.

Chief of staff General Hulusi Akar and other senior commanders were held hostage at the base during the coup attempt before they were freed on the morning on July 16.

The base was seen as the coup bid headquarters where commands were given for the F-16 fighter jets to attack and fly them above the capital.

The Turkish parliament was bombed three times by F-16s.

The trial is taking place in Turkey's largest courtroom — established inside a prison complex in Sincan to hear coup-related trials — which has space for 1,558 people.

The courtroom has previously hosted mass trials related to the coup bid including one which opened in February of 330 suspects accused of murder or attempted murder.

In May, 221 suspects were put on trial accused of being the ringleaders of the failed coup.

The attempted coup left 249 people dead, the Turkish presidency says, not including 24 coup-plotters killed on the night.

There was heavy security including 1,130 security personnel inside and outside the courtroom, according to state-run news agency Anadolu, as well as snipers, armoured security vehicles and a drone.