ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An autopsy on the exhumed body of Turkey’s President Turgut Ozal, who led the country out of military rule in the 1980s, has found no evidence he had been poisoned, but investigations will continue, prosecutors said.
There have long been rumors that Ozal, who died of heart failure in 1993 aged 65, was murdered by militants of the “deep state” - a shadowy group within the Turkish establishment of the day. Ozal had angered some with his efforts to end a Kurdish insurgency and survived an assassination bid in 1988.
But the prosecutor’s office summarized the forensic medicine institute report, which it received this week, as saying the exact cause of death could not be determined because no autopsy was conducted immediately after Ozal died.
Media reports had said Ozal’s body, dug up in October on the orders of prosecutors investigating suspicions of foul play, revealed traces of insecticides, pesticides and radioactive elements, but prosecutors said the levels of toxins were normal.
“Levels of heavy metals encountered in the autopsy conform with those in the general population,” the office said late on Thursday, adding that pesticide levels in the body were also normal for the period Ozal was alive.
Ankara prosecutors will continue their investigation into Ozal’s death with other findings and evidence, it said.
Despite the findings of the autopsy, suspicions about the deaths of several public figures in the early 1990s were likely to persist.
State prosecutors in the eastern city of Malatya have widened their probe into the 1994 death of a colonel, recorded as committing suicide but suspected to have been murdered, and have requested state dossiers on the deaths of Ozal and three other public figures, one media report said this week.
It said that the prosecutors’ office believed the four may have been targeted over attempts to end Turkey’s conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which took up arms against the state in 1984.
Ozal, whose economic reforms helped shape modern Turkey, was in poor health before his death. After undergoing a triple heart bypass operation in the United States in 1987, he kept up a grueling schedule and remained overweight until he died.
He dominated Turkish politics as prime minister from 1983 to 1989. Parliament then elected him president, but those close to him believe his reform efforts displeased some in the security establishment.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alistair Lyon