Turkey's AK Party moves to scrap coup trial courts

ISTANBUL Sat Jun 30, 2012 8:40am EDT

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan poses with his deputy Bekir Bozdag (L) and Head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Gormez (R) for a group photo during the summit of religious leaders from Muslim countries and communities in Africa at the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul November 21, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan poses with his deputy Bekir Bozdag (L) and Head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Gormez (R) for a group photo during the summit of religious leaders from Muslim countries and communities in Africa at the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul November 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Murad Sezer

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's ruling party is pushing through parliament a reform abolishing the special courts used in coup conspiracy cases against hundreds of military officers, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Saturday.

"The proposal is ready and will be submitted today," said Bozdag, of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), state-run Anatolia agency reported. The change in regulation was expected to take place late on Saturday.

However, the reform is not expected to affect the ongoing trials of hundreds of people accused of links to coup plots or to Kurdish militants. Turkish media reported the trials would run their course before the courts were abolished.

During his decade in power, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been at loggerheads with the staunchly secular military, which distrusted his Islamist past.

The special authority courts, established by Erdogan's government in 2005 to replace state security courts, have pursued cases against alleged anti-government plots within the secular establishment, including the military.

Critics say the trials have spiraled out of control, with many defendants spending years in custody with no verdict in sight. Public support for the courts dwindled as fears grew that prosecutors were using their powers to stifle dissent.

Many of the hundreds of suspects rounded up and held in lengthy pre-trial detention belonged to the military. Others included academics, journalists and social activists.

Earlier this month, Erdogan noted the public disquiet about the courts. He criticized special prosecutors for acting as if they were "a different power within the state" and said the courts had been useful at times but also harmful.

However, the dismantling of the courts is likely to face opposition from advocates of the trials, including followers of the influential Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who see them as an important part of Turkey's democratization. They say the courts call to account anti-democratic forces that once dominated Turkey. (Reporting by Seda Sezer; Editing by Pravin Char)

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