June 17, 2016 / 11:21 AM / 3 years ago

Germany starts trial of alleged Turkish militants

MUNICH (Reuters) - Ten people with Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds went on trial in Germany on Friday accused of belonging to a left-wing militant group in Turkey, a case defense lawyers say is politically motivated.

Erhan A., one of nine men and a woman of Turkish and Kurdish origin accused of being members of the leftist organization Turkish Communist Party/Marxist-Leninists (TKP/ML), arrives in a courtroom in Munich, Germany, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The nine men and one woman face charges of organizing propaganda events, raising funds and recruiting for the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist (TKP/ML), founded in 1972 and listed among a dozen active militant groups in Turkey.

Defense lawyers say the trial panders to President Tayyip Erdogan, whose relations with Germany are under strain after the German parliament labeled the 1915 mass killings of Armenians an act of genocide. The lawyers have told German media that a large part of the files presented in court were supplied by Turkish authorities.

“It looks like a job on orders from Erdogan,” Peer Stolle, who is representing two of the defendants, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper of Munich, where the trial was being held.

Left-wing activists chanted “Long live international solidarity” and held up colorful banners outside the court building as the defendants arrived.

Turkey has said it is discussing countermeasures since the ruling on the Armenian killings and that it threatens the friendship between them just as Chancellor Angela Merkel is relying on Ankara to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

Germany’s federal prosecutor says the main defendant, known as Muslum E., was the leader of the foreign branch of TKP/ML from 2004 and helped raise about half a million euros ($560,000) in funds annually for the group.

Muslum E. shouted political slogans and pumped his fist in the air as he entered the courtroom. Spectators in the public gallery cheered and applauded the defendants.

The other nine are accused of being members of the leadership committee and procuring money, as well as organizing propaganda events. They are also accused of recruiting new members and organizing a military training camp in Iraq.

A spokeswoman for the higher regional court in Munich said the defendants were not charged with committing acts of terror directly but rather with being members of the TKP/ML.

“So they are alleged to have voted on organizational matters as well as the execution of said attacks,” she told Reuters TV.

The group were arrested between April and November 2015, in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland.

Describing the TKP/ML’s activities, the prosecutor said in a January indictment: “The group has carried out numerous attacks with firearms and explosives and committed arson which caused many people to be killed or injured.”

The trial is due to run until Oct. 28.

Reporting by Caroline Copley and Reuters TV; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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