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Turkey hands life sentences to 40 over Erdogan death plot

A Turkish court has given 40 ex-soldiers life sentences over a plot to kill President Erdogan during last year's failed coup. Erdogan has said the plot left him just minutes from death.

Türkei Nach Putschversuch lebenslange Haft für Soldaten (Reuters/O. Orsal)

A court in southwestern Turkey on Wednesday found 43 ex-soldiers guilty of attempting to kill President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a failed coup in 2016, handing most of them life sentences.

Thirty-four received "aggravated" life sentences, which lengthen the minimum sentence required for parole under Turkish law, while others were given normal life sentences or lesser sentences.

The trial, involving 47 defendants and including senior military officers, was the highest-profile one so far related to the attempted putsch.

Read more:  Main coup trial begins in Turkey against nearly 500 suspects

Erdogan supporters waving flags and a noose (Reuters/O. Orsal)

Erdogan supporters demonstrated outside the court during the trial

Dubious account?

The former soldiers were accused of plotting to assassinate Erdogan at the Grand Yazici Hotel in the southwestern coastal resort of Marmaris, where he was holidaying with his family.

Just days after the coup attempt, the president told US broadcaster CNN in an interview that the assassination plot left him just minutes from death.

"If I had stayed 10 or 15 additional minutes there, I would have been killed or I would have been taken," he said.

Turkish President Erdogan (Reuters/O. Orsal)

Some question Erdogan's account of events

However, some commentators have cast doubt on Erdogan's account of imminent danger, given that the "assassination team" arrived at the hotel long after he had left, according to the parliamentary commission that investigated the coup plot.

'Trampled by elephants'

The trial, which started in February, is one of many amid an extensive crackdown following the failed putsch, which Ankara claims was orchestrated by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen himself, who has denied involvement, was one of three defendants tried in absentia, but no verdict was given in their cases. One person was acquitted, though he remains jailed on other charges related to the coup.

In their final statements, several of the defendants said that they doubted whether the court could give a fair verdict owing to political pressure.

"From the moment I was arrested at the air base on July 16, I was treated like a criminal," said Ergun Sahin, a former air force lieutenant, while another defendant, Gokhan Sen, described the accused as "the grass that elephants trampled on during their fight."

More than 50,000 people are under arrest in Turkey on charges related to the coup, while some 150,000 have lost their jobs in the civil service and military.

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tj/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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