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Trial begins for Turkish soldiers accused of coup plot to assassinate Erdogan

A mass trial for 47 suspects accused of taking part in a plot to kill President Erdogan last July has begun. Turkey has also dismissed another 227 judges and prosecutors as part of its post-failed coup purges.

The mass trial into the alleged attempt to assassinate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the failed coup bid last July 15 began in the southern city of Mulga on Monday.

Turkish prosecutors charged the 47 suspects - mainly soldiers - with a range of offenses including attempting to assassinate the president, breaching the constitution and belonging to a terrorist organization.

Three of the suspects are still on the run but are being tried in absentia. It was not immediately clear how all the suspects would plead.

Under tight security with snipers stationed on rooftops and helicopters circling, the defendants were bussed into a conference center serving as a courtroom. Onlookers shouted "we want the death penalty" at the suspects as they stepped out of the buses.

'Death penalty won't hurt me'

One of the first defendants to testify on Monday admitted to taking part in a mission to seize Erdogan but not to assassinate him.

"My mission was to take the president and bring him to Akinci air base safe and sound," Gokhan Sonmezates told the court, referring to a base outside Ankara that briefly functioned as a command center for the coup plotters.

Erdogan, who was on vacation with his family in the Aegean resort of Marmaris on the night of the coup, managed to escape before soldiers descended on the hotel. Over 240 people were killed during the botched coup attempt last July when a group of rogue soldiers attacked parliament and attempted to overthrow the government.

Turkish officials said the coup attempt was masterminded by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his so-called Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO).

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Sonmezantes, a former brigadier general, denied that he was a member of Gulen's network.

A second suspect, Sukru Seymen bluntly admitted in court: "Yes, I conducted a coup." He added that "even if I get the death penalty, it won't hurt me."

Seyman insisted, however, that he was not a Gulen follower, but rather an admirer of Turkey's secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

More judges purged

Also on Monday, Turkey's top judicial body dismissed 227 judges and prosecutors who were accused of having ties to Gulen, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Monday's dismissals mean a total of 3,886 members of the judiciary have been purged since July's failed coup. Authorities have detained, fired, or dismissed over 100,000 people from the police, military, judiciary, public service and elsewhere since the botched putsch.

Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum on April 16 in which voters will decide whether to greatly expand Erdogan's powers. Critics and opposition groups have warned that Turkey's constitutional checks could be eroded should people vote in favor of the changes.

rs/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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