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Turkey ex-president and coup leader Kenan Evren dies

Turkey's former President Kenan Evren, who notably led a still-contentious military coup, has died at 97. Evren had been sentenced to life in prison for his part in the coup, which supporters say was "a necessary evil."

Evren, who had been under medical treatment since 2012, died of multiple organ failure at a military hospital in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Saturday.

The state news agency Anadolu reported that the health of the 97-year-old, who led a coup and imposed martial law in Turkey in 1980, had worsened significantly in recent days.

Evren was sentenced to life in prison last June, in proceedings he had been unable to attend because of failing health. However, he was considered too sick at the time to be put behind bars.

Evren served as president after two years of military rule - a position he attained by forcing through constitutional changes - and never expressed regret for the coup. The former president claimed he had saved NATO member Turkey from anarchy amid violence between militant left- and right-wingers that had to be quelled.

"If it were today, we would do the same thing and stage that coup all over again," said Evren, while giving his 2012 testimony from a hospital bed. The military leaders were also said to be wary in light of what they saw as the Islamist threat that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Subsequently, some half million people were arrested, of whom hundreds died in prison and dozens were executed. The country's constitution was suspended and political parties were forbidden.

The military uprising left Turkey with a constitution drafted by the generals and viewed by many as a brake on democratic development.

"He is dead but his legacy ... lives on," tweeted liberal columnist Kadri Gursel.

The coup came to symbolize the military's decades-long influence over politics, a situation that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to address.

rc/gsw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)