MUGLA (Turkey) • The trial of almost 50 suspects accused of plotting to assassinate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a luxury Aegean hotel on the night of the botched July 15 coup started yesterday.
Forty-four suspects, mainly soldiers, are under arrest, while three others still on the run are being tried in absentia at the court in the southern city of Mugla.
The suspects, several smartly dressed in suits and ties, were led into the court by security forces in front of television cameras, Agence France-Presse reporters said.
Onlookers waving flags and calling for their execution heckled them as the suspects stepped out of the buses that took them from prison, shouting "We want the death penalty".
Mr Erdogan, who was holidaying at a hotel in the upmarket Aegean resort of Marmaris with his family on the night of the coup, has said that the plot left him 15 minutes from death.
Prosecutors have sought multiple life sentences for each of the suspects, who include an alleged hit squad of 37 soldiers suspected of seeking to carry out the plan.
The trial took place under the highest security, with snipers posted on rooftops and helicopters circling overhead. It was held in a conference centre rather than a standard courtroom to accommodate the high number of suspects.
Turkish officials say the plot to kill Mr Erdogan was a key part of a plan to depose the elected government, masterminded by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his so-called Fethullah Terror Organisation.
Gulen vehemently denies being behind the plot.
Ankara has repeatedly demanded that the United States extradite Gulen, who lives in a secluded compound in the US state of Pennsylvania. The preacher, who is on trial in several cases in Turkey, is one of the three suspects still at large in the assassination plot trial.
After the coup, there have been calls to reimpose the death penalty in Turkey, which was abolished in 2004. Its reinstatement would spell the end of Turkey's embattled bid to join the European Union.
Despite this, Mr Erdogan has repeatedly told crowds at rallies he would approve legislation reimposing the death penalty if it was approved by Parliament.
Accompanied by close family members, Mr Erdogan managed to flee Marmaris and fly to Istanbul, where he oversaw the suppression of the coup.
Two Turkish policemen who were helping to guard Mr Erdogan at the hotel were killed, according to the indictment.
Some 43,000 people have been arrested following the coup attempt, in a massive crackdown on followers of Gulen that has raised international concerns.
The Mugla trial is one of many now getting under way across the country, the biggest legal process in the country's modern history.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE