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Turkish court opens landmark coup trial

A Turkish court on Thursday began the trial of nearly 200 military officers accused of plotting to overthrow the government. The 2003 Balyoz Security Operation Plan [Taraf report, in Turkish; Al Jazeera backgrounder], or "Sledgehammer" plot [JURIST news archive], which included plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish plane in order to undermine the government, was revealed by the Taraf [media website] newspaper in January. The military has maintained that the plot was a war game exercise. If convicted, the 196 defendants face up to 20 years in prison. The trial could take years to complete.

In June, the trial of 33 retired and active naval officers began [JURIST report]. The officers were accused of attempting to overthrow the government and establish military rule in another plot planned by a group called Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The group allegedly planned to assassinate prominent members of Turkey's Christian and Jewish minority groups, blame Islamic terrorists for the deaths and use this to delegitimize the the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website]. Prosecutors in the case will attempt to link the 33 defendants to a plan to detonate a bomb in an Istanbul museum and the deaths of a Catholic priest, Protestant missionaries and journalist Hrant Dink. The investigations have strained relations between the religiously-inclined government and the secular military, which has been responsible for four coups in the last 50 years. Since the founding of the modern republic in 1923, the military has regarded itself as the defender of the secular legacy of founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk [Turkish News profile].

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