08/06/2013, 00.00
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'Ergenekon' trials: General Basbug's life sentence splits Turkey

The trials of various members of the alleged terrorist organisation have ended. Eleven life sentences were imposed and scores of defendants treated to shorter sentences on conspiracy charges. Anti-government protests start up again with Prime Minister Reçep Tayyp Erdogan targeted by street demonstrations and the country's political opposition.

Ankara (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The 'Ergenekon' trials have ended with ten major figures, including top military officers like General Ilker Basbug, getting life in prison, sparking fresh  protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

About a thousand protesters clashed with riot police outside Silivri Prison where the trials were held in a special courtroom.

After the verdict, General Basbug wrote on his Twitter page: "Those on the side of the truth and righteous, that is on the side of justice, have a clear conscience. That is how I am."

The 'Ergenekon' affair began in 2007 with the discovery of an illegal cache of weapons in Istanbul. It ballooned into an alleged conspiracy involving 275 suspects, many of whom have spent five years in custody waiting for trial, accused of planning a coup.

Following yesterday's verdict, six general, four colonels and a journalist accused of conspiracy were sentenced to life imprisonment. Many Kemalist politicians, military and university professors were given sentences ranging from 6 to 47 years of imprisonment.

Although Prime Minister Erdogan denies any involvement in the legal proceedings, many analysts and opposition political figures believe that the trials, a watershed in Turkish history, are an attempt to liquidate a good portion of the opposition.

"If you are trying someone who has been the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces for being a member of a terrorist organisation, that means you are targeting and trying the army of the Republic of Turkey," said Akif Hamzacebi, an MP with the Republican People's Party (CHP).

In Turkish mythology, Ergenekon is the name of a valley in Central Asia where the Turkish people was supposedly born. The same name has been used in connection to an underground ultra-nationalist secularist organisation opposed to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), with ties to members of the country's military and security forces as well as some of its universities.

For the past five years, politicians, generals, professors and journalists have been on trial (aka, the Ergenekon trials) highlighting the deep chasm that exists between Erdogan's moderate Islamism and Turkey's Kemalist secular nationalist tradition.

Between 1960 and 1997, Turkey's military overthrew four elected governments, holding the balance of power in Turkish politics until the late 1990s.

Since the rise of a charismatic figure like, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and of his AKP, the relationship between government and the armed forces has been radically transformed, strengthening the former at the expense of the latter, this partly thanks to a long period of unprecedented economic growth.

For many analysts however, the murders of Turkish political and religious figures in the past few years are related to this ongoing conflict.

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