x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ex-general is charged over Turkey's 1980 military coup

Prosecutors have sought life imprisonment for ailing retired generals Kenan Evren, 94, and Tahsin Sahinkaya, 86.

ANKARA // The leader of the 1980 Turkish coup and a co-conspirator have been charged with crimes against the state after an Ankara court approved an indictment.

Prosecutors have sought life imprisonment for ailing retired generals Kenan Evren, 94, and Tahsin Sahinkaya, 86, it reported.

Gen Evren came to power after the coup and was Turkey's seventh president from 1982 to 1989.

Five army generals took power in 1980 but Gen Evren and Gen Sahinkaya are the only ones who are still alive.

With the approval of the indictment a trial is to begin, a process expected to bring Turkey closer to confronting its coup-filled past as it is the first time in the history of the republic that perpetrators of a coup will stand trial.

"The time of ... the coups are a thing of the past," thanks to the reforms carried out by the government to diminish military influence in politics, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said.

The military, which considers itself the guardian of secularism in modern-day Turkey and currently boasts a force of 515,000 troops, has carried out three coups - in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

In 1997, the army also forced the removal of a coalition government led by an Islamist prime minister.

But the military's political influence has waned since Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) took office in 2002.

A package of government-led amendments adopted in a 2010 referendum paved the way for the trial of those responsible for the military takeover.

Turkey's 1982 junta-made constitution reserved an article that exempted the former generals from any trial.

After the constitutional reform package, Mr Erdogan's government is now trying to draft a civilian charter by the end of 2012.

Gen Evren has said he had no regrets over the 1980 coup and would rather commit suicide than go on trial.

Tensions between Turkey's fiercely secularist military and Erdogan's government have been building for years, and now about one tenth of the army's generals are in custody over alleged coup plots.

Turkey's former army chief, Ilker Basbug, was arrested on Friday for an alleged bid to topple the government in the latest confrontation likely to inflame tensions with the once powerful military.

Gen Basbug, who was army chief from 2008 to 2010, is the most senior officer to be implicated in a massive investigation into the so-called Ergenekon network, accused of overthrowing the government.

Dozens of active and retired military officers, academics, journalists and lawyers have been detained in recent years as part of a wider probe into Ergenekon.