21 sentenced to life over Turkey's 1997 'post-modern coup'

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Friday sentenced 21 people — including former top military officers — to life terms in prison over the ouster of an Islamic-oriented government in 1997.

Another 68 defendants were acquitted in the trial against scores of people who were accused of taking part in the campaign that was led by Turkey's pro-secular military and forced the resignation of the prime minister of the time, Necmettin Erbakan.

The ouster was later dubbed Turkey's "post-modern coup" because unlike previous coups in the country, no tanks or soldiers were used to bring down the government, which was replaced by another coalition nominated by the president.

Those convicted of charges of "overthrowing the government by force" include former Gen. Ismail Hakki Karadayi, who was chief of military staff between 1994 and 1998, as well as his deputy, Gen. Cevik Bir.

At the time, the army was concerned by Erbakan's efforts to raise the profile of Islam in the predominantly Muslim but secular country. On Feb. 28, 1997, the military-dominated National Security Council threatened action if Erbakan did not back down. He resigned four months later.

The trial was one of several held in the country against military officers as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed ahead with efforts to make generals account for their decades of intervention in government affairs.

All 21 convicted in the case are to remain free pending the outcome of an appeals process but would have to report regularly at a police station and would be barred from traveling abroad.

Four of the defendants have died since the trial started in 2013, while charges against 10 others were dropped.

Ravza Kavakci Kan, a deputy chairwoman of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted ruling party, welcomed the verdict describing it as a historic development.

"The coup perpetrators have been held to account by a court," she told reporters outside the courthouse.

Turkey's military, which has long regarded its role as protector the country's secular traditions, staged three other coups between 1960 and 1980.

In July 2016, Turkey quashed a coup attempt which the government has blamed on supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.

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