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25 acquitted in Turkish ‘Sledgehammer’ coup trial

The acquittal of more than two dozen people comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempts to repair ties with the coup-inclined army
Engin Alan, a former general sentenced in connection with the coup plot, was released earlier this year and sworn in to office this week (AFP)

A Turkish court on Tuesday acquitted more than two dozen people in a retrial after they were convicted over an alleged coup plot in 2012 against Turkey's Islamic-rooted government.

Last October, an appeals court ordered a retrial of 88 people, including former army chiefs, who had been sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years.

The criminal court in Istanbul on Tuesday acquitted a total of 25 defendants, citing a lack of tangible, credible evidence against them, and decided to review the dossiers of the remaining suspects, the private Dogan news agency said.

Those acquitted were largely mid-ranking former army officials but also included Omer Faruk Yarman, the former CEO of Turkish defence and software manufacturer Havelsan.

A total of 326 officers were convicted in 2012 when a court ruled that an army exercise in 2003, codenamed "Sledgehammer", was an undercover coup plot against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In a separate development in the case, magistrates in Istanbul had on Thursday ordered the release of 230 military officers after Turkey's top court said the original trial was flawed.

Three coups since 1960

Turkey's once-powerful army, which considers itself the self-appointed guardian of secular rule, has staged three coups since 1960 and forced out an Islamic government in 1997.

Erdogan has spent the best part of his 11 years in power trying to curb the military's influence through a series of trials, which have long been criticised by rights groups questioning their impartiality.

The premier has recently sought to mend fences with the army as he fights for political survival in a bitter feud with his ally-turned-opponent Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of masterminding a graft scandal to try to topple him.

In a gesture towards the army, parliament in February abolished specially appointed courts that convicted dozens of army officers, paving the way for retrials.

Retired general Engin Alan was sworn in as a member of the Turkish parliament Tuesday after being released from his prison sentence for involvement in the plot.

Alan, who was elected to the extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in 2011 while awaiting trial, has now been released from an 18 year sentence.

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