Turkish ex-president re-buried after remains tested for poison

ISTANBUL Fri Oct 5, 2012 9:12am EDT

Presidential honour guard carry coffin of President Turgut Ozal as Turkish generals with drawn swords accompany them during a funeral procession in Ankara in this April 21, 1993 file photo. REUTERS/Fatih Saribas

Presidential honour guard carry coffin of President Turgut Ozal as Turkish generals with drawn swords accompany them during a funeral procession in Ankara in this April 21, 1993 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Fatih Saribas

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Forensic tests on the exhumed body of former Turkish President Turgut Ozal have yielded useful material for an investigation into allegations he was murdered, a government minister said.

The remains of Ozal, who led Turkey out of military rule in the 1980s and drove far-reaching economic reform, were reburied on Friday after two days of tests.

Ozal died in an Ankara hospital of heart failure while in office in April 1993 at the age of 65. Relatives and associates voiced suspicions he had been poisoned.

"The forensic medicine team has obtained material far beyond its expectations," Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin was quoted as saying in the Milliyet newspaper.

"A large part of Ozal's corpse has not decomposed at all."

He gave no details on what the material might reveal and results from the tests are still months away.

Turkish political history is littered with military coups, alleged anti-government plots and extra-judicial killings. A Turkish court is trying hundreds of people suspected of links to a nationalist underground network known as "Ergenekon" accused of plotting to overthrow the current government.

Ozal's brother, Korkut Ozal, said in 2010 he believed Ergenekon had killed his brother whose death was mourned by vast crowds who lined the streets for his state funeral 19 years ago.

Investigators examined Ozal's remains for traces of poisonous substances. The initial results of the investigation were expected in two months and would be sent to the Ankara prosecutor's office, Ozal's son told reporters.

"A very scrupulous investigation was carried out by the forensic institution, we are grateful," Ahmet Ozal said at the reburial ceremony, where Ozal's coffin, draped in a Turkish flag, was carried by police officers back to a towering mausoleum in an Istanbul cemetery.

"It wasn't us who wanted the exhumation in the first place, and we are feeling sorrowful today ... We are going through a 19-year-old scene again," he said.

ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Those suspicious about Ozal's death have pointed to efforts he made to end Turkey's 28-year-old conflict with Kurdish militants, including securing a ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group shortly before his death.

The PKK, which took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state, is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and European Union.

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

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

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.

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

(Writing by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Robin Pomeroy)

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