Turkey ‘coup plot’: Ex-army chief Ilker Basbug on trial
ISTANBUL - Turkey's former army chief Ilker Basbug went on trial Monday on charges of leading a terrorist group accused of plotting to overthrow the Islamist-rooted government, local media said.
Basbug, who was chief of staff from 2008 to 2010, has been in custody since January and risks life in prison if convicted in a case that has inflamed tensions between the government and the powerful military.
He is the most senior officer to be implicated in a massive probe into the so-called Ergenekon network, accused of plotting to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Basbug, 68, branded the charges against him as "tragi-comic" when he was arrested in January.
At the start of the hearing in a court in Silivri, outside Istanbul, Basbug's lawyer called for his client to be tried by the Supreme Court but the demand was rejected, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The military, which considers itself as the guardian of secularism in modern-day Turkey and is the second-largest force in NATO after the United States, has carried out three coups -- in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
It also forced the removal of a coalition government led by an Islamist prime minister in 1997 and tensions have been building for years between the army and the Erdogan administration, which has been in power since 2002.
Dozens of active and retired military officers including generals, as well as academics, journalists and lawyers have been detained in the Ergenekon investigation.
Critics accuse Erdogan's government of launching the far-reaching probe as a tool to silence its opponents and impose authoritarianism, charges it denies.
A statement issued by relatives of the detained officers has called for the charges to be dropped, accusing the Turkish judiciary of "falsifying evidence".
The US State Department in January urged the Turkish government to ensure that the Ergenekon probe and any prosecutions were conducted in a "transparent manner" and in accordance with international standards.