Middle East

Turkey begins trials for alleged coup plotters

Trials are set to begin in Turkey on Tuesday for hundreds of suspects accused of leading last year’s coup attempt and carrying out attacks from an air base in Ankara.

Many of the 486 face life terms in prison for a range of crimes – including murder, attempt to assassinate the president and overthrow the government and violating the constitution.

U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for the coup, has been named as the main defendant in the case and will be tried in absentia. Former Air Force commander Akin Ozturk and other defendants stationed at Akinci air base, are accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings.

The trial is one of dozens that are underway in Turkey in relation to the failed coup on July 15, 2016 that resulted in 249 deaths.

The government says the coup-plotters used Akinci air base as their headquarters. Turkey's military chief Gen. Hulusi Akar and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.

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On Tuesday, a group of 41 defendants were paraded from their jail to a courthouse that was built at a prison complex to try the coup plotters. They were handcuffed, with two paramilitary police officers on each arm and protected by armed special force officers.

A total of 461 defendants are behind bars while 18 were freed pending the outcome of the trial. Seven others, including Gulen and an alleged top operative in his movement, are still wanted by the Turkish authorities and are being tried in absentia.

Families of those killed or wounded during the coup attempt staged a protest, some throwing ropes toward the defendants and demanding that the death penalty be reinstated. Others threw stones or tried to break through police lines to reach the suspects, shouting "murderers."

The government declared a state of emergency following the coup and embarked on a large-scale crackdown on Gulen's network and other opponents, arresting more than 50,000 people and purging over 110,000 people from government jobs.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.