Turkey to exhume ex-president as death investigated

ISTANBUL Tue Oct 2, 2012 5:44am EDT

Presidential honour guard carry coffin of President Turgut Ozal as Turkish generals with drawn swords accompany them during a funeral procession in Ankara April 21.

Presidential honour guard carry coffin of President Turgut Ozal as Turkish generals with drawn swords accompany them during a funeral procession in Ankara April 21.

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The remains of former Turkish President Turgut Ozal are to be exhumed from his grave in Istanbul on Tuesday on the orders of prosecutors investigating suspicions of foul play in his death 19 years ago.

Mechanical diggers arrived at his tomb within a towering mausoleum in a cemetery on the European side of Turkey's largest city under the supervision of a prosecutor-led team including forensic experts, television footage showed.

After Ozal's death, relatives and associates said he was poisoned, and forensic teams will investigate whether any poisonous substances are present in the remains.

Ozal, the eighth president of the Turkish Republic, died of heart failure in April 1993 in an Ankara hospital at the age of 65 and while in office.

Viewed as a visionary who helped shape modern Turkey with free market economic policies, Ozal also gave firm support for the West, supporting the U.S.-led coalition which expelled Iraq from Kuwait in 1991.

Prosecutors decided two weeks ago that Ozal's remains should be exhumed and another autopsy held after a state supervisory board, acting on the order of President Abdullah Gul, produced a report in June voicing suspicions about the death.

The report was ordered in response to the suspicions of Ozal's family and friends about his death and the subsequent investigation. However, members of Ozal's family had been opposed to exhuming his remains.

After a period of military rule following a 1980 coup, Ozal dominated Turkish politics during his period as prime minister from 1983-89 and parliament then elected him president.

While prime minister, Ozal survived an assassination attempt by a right-wing gunman in 1988 when he was shot at a party congress, suffering a wounded finger.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dan Lalor)

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