Turkish court verdict on Ergenekon conspiracy set for August 5

ISTANBUL Fri Jun 21, 2013 4:51pm EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court will announce verdicts on August 5 on nearly 300 defendants accused of plotting to topple the government, defense lawyers said on Friday, ending a five-year trial of a shadowy group allegedly responsible for years of political violence.

Prosecutors accuse Ergenekon, an alleged underground network of secular arch-nationalists, of involvement in extra-judicial killings and bombings, embodying anti-democratic forces which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan says he has fought to stamp out.

Retired armed forces commander Ilker Basbug is among the defendants, including other military officers, politicians and academics, accused of attempting to stage a coup against Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party government.

Chief judge Hasan Huseyin Ozese told Friday's hearing at the court in Silivri, just west of Istanbul, that testimony had been completed and defendants were asked to make their final comments before the announcement of the verdict, the lawyers said.

"The hearing was adjourned to August 5," defense lawyer Huseyin Ersoz wrote on Twitter from the courtroom after the final comments were completed. "The verdict will be announced on August 5."

In March, prosecutors demanded life sentences for 64 of the total 275 defendants.

The trial has drawn accusations of political influence over the judiciary, with critics seeing it as a ploy to stifle opposition and tame the secularist establishment which long dominated Turkey.

Last September, the Silivri court sentenced more than 300 military officers to jail over the separate "Sledgehammer" plot to overthrow Erdogan a decade ago, underscoring civilian dominance over the once all-powerful military.

The army intervened to topple governments four times in the second half of the 20th century.

Investigation of the alleged conspiracy, which surfaced in 2007 when police discovered a cache of weapons in Istanbul, was initially welcomed by a public eager to see an end to the "Deep State" - a shadowy network of militant secularists long believed to have been pulling the strings of power.

But dissenting voices have grown in recent years, with the European Commission expressing concern about the handling of the conspiracy trials.

(Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Andrew Roche)

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