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Turkey's former coup leaders stand trial for the first time
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) ' The two surviving leaders of Turkey's 1980 military coup, including a former president, went on trial on Wednesday on charges of crimes against the state.
The trial of retired Gen. Kenan Evren, who as military chief of staff led the coup and then led the country from 1982 to 1989, and retired Gen. Tahsin Sahinkaya, chief of the air force at the time, comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government is curtailing the military's clout.
The government and the Parliament have said they would seek the court's permission to join the trial as plaintiffs along with hundreds of non-governmental organizations and citizens. A few thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse in Ankara on Wednesday ahead of the opening hearing.
The coup leaders, both in poor health, have been hospitalized and did not attend. Evren, 94, and Sahinkaya, 86, have been charged with crimes against the state and face possible life imprisonment for leading the coup.
Their prosecution was made possible after constitutional amendments passed last year lifted their immunity and allowed them to be brought to trial.
Hundreds of people, including many active and retired officers, separately stand trial in more recent alleged coup plots.
The trials were welcomed by the public at first, but long imprisonments without verdicts and alleged irregularities in the handling of evidence have stirred claims that the government might be manipulating the legal process.
Evren was initially regarded as a hero by many Turks because the military takeover stopped fighting between leftist and right-wing groups that led to fears that Turkey was heading toward a civil war. But he is also remembered for the torture of suspected militants and their supporters and for introducing a constitution that restricted freedoms and formalized the military's role in politics.
The government has initiated negotiations with opposition parties for the drafting of a new constitution.