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Turkish coup soldiers appear in Greek court

July 18, 2016

Eight men have appeared in court, charged with illegally flying their Turkish military helicopter into northern Greece following the failed coup. Their lawyer says the men fear for their lives if they are returned home.

Turkish soldiers in Greek court
Image: picture-alliance/AA/A. Mehmet

The men, who have applied for political asylum in Greece, were arrested after making a distress call and emergency landing in the northern city of Alexandroupolis early on Saturday. They escaped from Turkey in a Black Hawk helicopter during a coup attempt by a faction within the country's military, which crumbled after a few hours.

The eight men appeared in court Monday, charged with illegally entering the country. The helicopter's pilot is also charged with violating air traffic regulations, and the other seven as accomplices to the infraction. Their lawyers were granted a three-day postponement of the trial, which will now begin on Thursday.

The men - identified as two majors, four captains and two master sergeants - left court handcuffed to each other in pairs and covering their faces with towels or clothing, in the same way as they had arrived.

Hostility in court

During their court appearance, the men complained that they were being threatened by some members of the audience who were speaking Turkish in the public area of the courtroom. Some of the people making the threatening remarks were removed.

Turkish helicopter used to escape to Greece
Their Black Hawk helicopter made an emergency landing in GreeceImage: Getty Images/AFP/STR

Turkey has demanded that the men be immediately returned, while the Greek government said their asylum applications must be examined under international law first, which could take up to 25 days. Turkey has yet to formally request the men's extradition, Greek officials said Monday.

Vasiliki Ilia Marinaki, a lawyer representing four of the men, reiterated that the defendants "knew absolutely nothing about the coup" and were under orders from their superiors to transport the wounded.

'Lives in danger'

"They fear their lives are in danger. For that reason they do not want to return to Turkey and they have requested political asylum," Marinaki told Skai TV.

At one point their helicopter came under fire from Turkish police, she added. At the same time they had received text messages on their phones that the coup attempt was underway, so they decided to flee to neighboring Greece.

The men are all married and are concerned about the safety of their families, Marinaki said.

Since the coup attempt was crushed, the Turkish government has launched a purge of the armed forces and judiciary, rounding up some 7,500 people, including many military personnel. Almost 9,000 officials have been sacked.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said there should be no delay in bringing back the death penalty for those behind the putsch. It was abolished in 2004.

But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned that if capital punishment was reinstated, it would derail Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

mm/jm, kl (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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