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First Istanbul trial of Turkey coup suspects begins

The 29 police are charged with seeking to overthrow the government as well as being members of the Gulen movement
Turkish special force soldiers stand guard at the courthouse on 27 December at Silivri District in Istanbul (AFP)

Almost 30 Turkish police will go on trial in Istanbul on Tuesday charged with involvement in the 15 July coup bid, the city's first trial of alleged putschists.

With indictments prepared against over 1,200 people, and some 41,000 under arrest in total, the trials following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to be the most far-reaching legal process in Turkish history.

Five months after the coup, small-scale trials of suspects have already begun in the provinces and on Monday 60 people went on trial in the southwestern city of Denizli.

But the trial in Istanbul - which is to take place in a gigantic courthouse in the city's Silivri prison - is to be the most significant to date and the first in the Turkish metropolis.

The accused are charged with seeking to overthrow the government as well as allegedly being members of the group led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who the authorities accuse of leading the plot.

Gulen, who Ankara wants to see extradited from the United States, vehemently denies the charges.

Of the 29 police set to go on trial in Silivri on Tuesday, 24 are under arrest, one on the run and the rest on bail.

If convicted, 21 suspects each face three life sentences and the other eight officers could be handed prison terms of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years.

"Time to bring the traitors to account," said the pro-government Sabah newspaper.

Those accused are alleged to have refused to protect Erdogan's residence in Istanbul on the night of the coup.

'Dirty organisation'

However, there has been growing international alarm over the extent of the crackdown amid the state of emergency imposed after the coup, with critics concerned it has been used to target Erdogan's opponents.

With the crackdown showing no sign of relenting, the interior ministry said 1,096 people suspected of Gulen links were detained in the last week alone.

Since the coup, the authorities have investigated almost 101,800 people, placing some 41,000 under arrest.

Erdogan said last week that the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara was carried out by a Turkish policeman loyal to Gulen, a claim not yet accepted by Moscow.

He said that allies of Gulen - who over decades built up strong networks of influence within Turkish institutions - still needed to be weeded out of the security services.

"This dirty organisation is still within the military, still within the police," Erdogan said.

Following the start of the Istanbul trial, several others will get under way in the coming months including of the alleged military ringleaders in Ankara.

The trial of 47 suspects accused of trying to assassinate Erdogan at a holiday resort on the Aegean Sea is due to begin in Mugla on 20 February.

The courthouse in Silivri has huge resonance for Turks after it was also used in trials against suspects in 2013 accused of a separate coup plot known as Ergenekon.

That case, which was strongly supported by Gulen, saw 275 police officers, journalists, lawyers and academics indicted for allegedly conspiring to oust Erdogan.

But the suspects were then released and their convictions quashed earlier this year, with the authorities accusing Gulen of perverting the legal process and fabricating evidence.

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