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Turkey opens trial of 103 suspects charged with plotting a 1997 military coup

The trial of 103 suspected plotters of Turkey's 1997 military coup has opened in Ankara. Ex-army chief General Ismail Hakki Karadayi and his co-accused are charged with ousting Turkey's first Islamist government.

Turkey's former army chief and 102 other suspects went on trial on Monday over their alleged involvement in "overthrowing the Turkish government by force," in the 1997 bloodless coup.

Karadayi, 81, and other former military officials face life in prison if convicted.

Ill health prevented the ex-army chief from attending Monday's hearing in Ankara in person. Proceedings are expected to last several months.

The trial concerns the ouster of Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the political mentor of current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It became known as Turkey‘s first "post-modern coup" as, for the first time, the army was able to the head of state to step down without using military force. A parade of tanks outside Ankara and an ultimatum address to the prime minister was all it took to force his hand.

The military, which has seen itself as a protector of Turkey's secular principles, had staged three previous coups and removed elected governments of power in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

Since coming to power in 2002 Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government has sought to curtail military power using a series of trials that have seen the conviction of dozens of army conspirators.

Former army chief General Ilker Basbug was handed a life sentence in August for his role in a plot to overthrow Erdogan's administration. Dozens more also received jail terms in connection with the conspiracy.

Last over 300 active and retired army officers, including three former generals, were convicted over military exercise alleged to have been a separate undercover bid to topple Erdogan in 2003. They were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

ccp/kms (AFP, AP)