Trial of Turkish coup general adjourned till January

ANKARA Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:56pm EST

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ANKARA (Reuters) - The trial of former Turkish president General Kenan Evren over a 1980 military coup that led to mass torture and executions was adjourned on Thursday until January to allow for more evidence.

The trial of 95-year-old Evren, symbol of an era when the army dominated Turkish politics, is a landmark in the steady erosion of the military's power under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. It also offers the country a chance to confront one of its bloodiest periods since the republic's foundation in 1923.

In scenes unthinkable even a few years ago, Evren has appeared for the past three days before the Ankara court by video link from his hospital bed, facing prosecution lawyers and relatives of those killed after his coup on September 12, 1980.

Fifty people were executed and half a million arrested - many of them tortured - while hundreds died in jail and many more disappeared in three years of military rule after the coup, Turkey's third in 20 years. Evren was president until 1989.

Evren has remained silent at the trial, apart from a statement read out from his bed on Wednesday in which he said he would do the same again today if the circumstances dictated.

The judge adjourned the case until January 17 to allow further evidence to be gathered on events during the years leading up to the army takeover.

While much of Turkey is too young to remember the coup, many Turks, especially those with relatives who were killed or went missing, are still haunted by the events that followed.

"When I think of this period and about my brother I feel emotional, tears come to my eyes," Ahmet Cihan, one of the plaintiffs, told Reuters outside the courtroom.

His brother, Suleyman Cihan, was arrested, tortured and later turned up dead less than a year after the coup. A picture of his body was held up to the camera for Evren to see.

Evren toppled a government struggling to deal with street violence between left and right-wing groups that killed thousands. At the time, the coup offered relief for some and for years the military was the most popular institution in Turkey.

Through reforms, Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party has pushed the once-dominant secularist generals out of politics, their prestige eroded by a string of conspiracy trials.

Among the families of Evren's victims, there is a growing confidence and will to confront the injustices of the past.

"We are trying him. This is what's important," said Cihan. I believe this is for the benefit of Turkey's future."

(Editing by Nick Tattersall and David Stamp)

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