ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court ruled on Thursday against the extradition of a further two of eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece in a helicopter in July after a failed military coup against the Ankara government, court officials said.
The verdict, the third this week in the case, brings the total number of soldiers who will not be extradited to five, though the Greek judges have ruled that the three others must be sent back to Turkey.
The months’-long case has exposed often strained relations between Athens and Ankara, NATO allies who are at odds over issues from Cyprus to air rights over the Aegean.
The soldiers are seeking political asylum in Greece, saying their lives would be in danger in Turkey where authorities are purging large numbers of people from the armed forces and other state institutions following the abortive July 15 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara accuses the eight men of involvement in the coup and has branded them traitors. All deny the accusations.
On Tuesday the Greek court ruled that three soldiers should be returned to Turkey to stand trial for three of four crimes they are accused of - attempting to abrogate the constitution, attempting to dissolve parliament and seizing a helicopter using violence, but not for attempting to assassinate Erdogan.
Rulings can be contested and the soldiers are appealing against Tuesday’s decision at Greece’s Supreme Court. Also, a chief Athens prosecutor has appealed Monday’s ruling that upheld the extradition of three other soldiers.
If the Supreme Court rules that the soldiers must face trial in Turkey, their asylum applications in Greece will be overridden and they will be sent back.
A committee of experts that processes asylum requests has rejected the asylum applications of five of the soldiers but they have lodged appeals. The board has yet to decide on the other three applications.
On Wednesday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for the immediate extradition of all eight soldiers.
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Gareth Jones