Kenan Evren, leader of Turkey's 1980 coup and former president, dies at 97

Kenan Evren, the Turkish general who led a 1980 coup that ended years of violence but whose rule unleashed a wave of arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings, died on Saturday. He was 97.

The ailing former general who later ruled as president for seven years, died at Ankara's GATA military hospital, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported, hours after he was placed on a respirator and his family was called to his side.

Evren was hailed as a hero at the time of the coup for ending fighting between rightists and leftists that had left some 5,000 people dead and put the country on the brink of a civil war. But he soon became one of the country's most controversial figures, remembered more for the torture of former militants and their supporters and for introducing a constitution that restricted freedoms and formalized the military's role in politics.

As head of the Turkish military, Evren sent tanks rolling through the streets at 4 a.m. on Sept. 12, 1980, wresting power from a civilian government that was unable to keep order. It was the country's third coup since 1960.

After civilian rule was restored with the adoption of a new constitution in a 1982 referendum, he served a seven-year term as president.

Last year, he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of crimes against the state, becoming the first general in Turkey to be prosecuted for carrying out a coup. Too frail to attend the trial, Evren testified from his hospital bed and said: "We did what was right at the time and if it happened today we would carry out a coup again."

Evren is survived by three daughters. Funeral plans were not immediately announced.