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Turkish court seeks life sentences for 16 activists over Gezi protests

Indictment accuses businessman Osman Kavala and 15 others of organising anti-government protests in 2013
The Gezi protests turned into nationwide demonstrations against the government of then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AFP)

A Turkish court has accepted an indictment seeking life sentences against businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala and 15 others over the 2013 Gezi anti-government protests, Kavala's lawyer said on Monday.

Kavala, who has been in custody for more than a year, is accused of helping fund and organise the protests and of being involved in a July 2016 coup attempt.

According to the indictment, seen by Reuters news agency, the defendants had prepared for the Gezi Park protests since 2011 and were "top management" organisers.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul in 2013 to protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on top of Gezi Park in the city centre. 

The protests turned into nationwide demonstrations against the government of then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The indictment said the defendants "at best wanted to force the government to resign or call early elections" and were making efforts "to prepare the grounds for a civil war or coup" if that did not happen.

Police detained more than a dozen people in November as part of the investigation.

Election accusation

Opposition figures have said the renewed probes are designed to polarise public opinion and rally support for Erdogan ahead of local elections at the end of March.

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The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), of which some defendants are members, said the indictment was part of efforts "to defame and sully the honourable history of Gezi".

"We see the bad intentions despite all its dirtiness and we reject it with all our clarity," TMMOB said in a statement published earlier on Monday.

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Foundation said it had become a target of the investigation and would cease operations in Turkey.

"Who is behind him [Kavala]? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros," said Erdogan in November.

"This is a man who assigns people to divide nations and shatter them. He has so much money and he spends it this way."

Soros is regularly accused of funding opposition movements across the world - accusations which critics say amount to blatant anti-Semitism.