56 go on trial in Turkey over 'coup plot'
Some 200 protestors demonstrated outside the courthouse near Istanbul to brand the charges as a fabrication as the suspects appeared in the dock.Silivri -- Two retired Turkish generals and 54 co-accused went on trial Monday over an alleged coup plot in a case which has deepened the rifts between secularists and the Islamist-rooted government.
Some 200 protestors demonstrated outside the courthouse near Istanbul to brand the charges as a fabrication as the suspects appeared in the dock.
The generals, accused of being the plot's ringleaders, are the most senior military figures to stand trial on coup charges in a country where the army has toppled four governments since 1960.
Other defendants include journalists and academics known as critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist group which opponents accuse of undermining Turkey's secular system.
The 1,909-page charge sheet says Sener Eruygur, former commander of the gendarmerie forces, and Hursit Tolon, former top army commander, "began implementing the coup plans they drew up in 2003-2004 while in office and continued their activities after they retired."
The two men, both in their late 60s, risk life sentences if convicted.
Eruygur, who suffered a serious brain trauma after falling from stairs in prison, was not present at the hearing, which dealt largely with procedural formalities.
Coup allegations first surfaced in March 2007 when a magazine published excerpts from the purported diary of the former navy chief, which described how several generals plotted coups but failed to secure support of top commanders.
Following retirement, the indictment says, Eruygur and Tolon used civic groups to incite public opinion against the AKP in line with their aims.
Eruygur was the head of a secularist association that led mass rallies against the AKP in 2007.
The two are accused of being leaders of Ergenekon, a nationalist-secularist network which allegedly had a broader plan to plunge Turkey into political chaos, using assassinations of prominent people, to pave the way for a coup.
Among the suspects in the dock on Monday were two senior journalists known as vocal government critics -- Mustafa Balbay, whose alleged diary mentions purported coup plots, and Tuncay Ozkan.
The charge sheet is the second to emerge from the long-running probe into Ergenekon, with 86 people already on trial since October.
Prosecutors also announced on Monday that they were bringing charges against another 52 people, whose trial can start if the indictment is approved by the courts, Anatolia news agency reported.
The new charge sheet also detailed a long list of weapons discovered so far as part of the Ergenekon probe, which began in June 2007, including more than 200 guns and rifles, about 420 hand grenades, and three homemade bombs.
Critics accuse the government of using the probe to bully opponents and discredit the army, a staunch defender of secularism.
About 200 people demonstrated outside the court in Silivri, near Istanbul, to denounce the trial, brandishing national flags and portraits of Ataturk, Turkey's secularist founder.
"This trial is a lie. They are fabricating evidence to arrest Ataturk's followers," one protestor, Suzan Demirten, said.
The investigation was initially hailed as a success for targeting the so-called "deep state" -- a term used to describe officials acting outside the law, often with the help of the underworld, to protect what they see as Turkey's best interests.
But critics questioned its credibility after police began rounding up secularist academics, writers and journalists known as AKP opponents.
Several suspects have claimed they never owned the documents implicating them in the affair, accusing the government-controlled police of fabricating evidence.