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Turkey to try 196 suspected of plotting a coup

Ex-army chief prime suspect in Turkey coup plot case

Turkish prosecutors have indicted 196 people, including several former heads of service, over accusations they plotted a coup against the Islamist-rooted government, reports said on Monday.

According to the indictment cited by the Anatolia news agency, the plan was drawn up at the Istanbul base of the First Army shortly after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002.

The First Army's former top general Cetin Dogan is the chief suspect while former navy chief admiral Ozden Ornek, former air force commander general Halil Ibrahim Firtina, and the former number two of the general staff, retired general Ergin Saygun, are also among those charged.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported on its website that there were more than 30 retired or serving soldiers among the suspects of the plot which was said to have been drawn up on the grounds that the AKP was a threat to secularism.

The indictment accuses all the defendants of "attempting to overthrow the government or prevent it from carrying out its duties through the use of force and violence", a crime punishable by 15 to 20 years in jail, Anatolia added.

It was not immediately clear when the trial would start.

The plot -- codenamed "Operation Sledgehammer" -- reportedly involved plans to bomb mosques and provoke tensions with Greece, thus sparking political chaos and justifying a military takeover.

It was first reported in January by the Taraf newspaper, which routinely targets the army. The daily said it had obtained documents and audio tapes indicating that a coup plan was drawn up and discussed at the First Army.

Dogan has denied the charges, claiming that papers from a contingency plan based on a scenario of domestic unrest had been doctored to look like a coup plot.

The investigation -- the toughest action so far against the influential army -- initially saw the arrest of dozens of retired and serving soldiers pending trial as part of the probe.

But they were all subsequently released amid accusations that prosecutors had issued arrest rulings liberally and were effectively punishing suspects before the charges had been proven in court.

Opponents have accused the government of using the investigation to discredit the army, the guardians of the country's strictly secular order.

They argue the authorities want to remove a major obstacle in its plan to raise the profile of Islam in the country.

The government categorically denies charges that it has designs against the secular order and has described the probe as a step towards improving Turkish democracy.