Greece rejects asylum requests from more Turkish soldiers

Two of the eight Turkish soldiers (2nd R, 2nd L), who fled to Greece in a helicopter and requested political asylum after a failed military coup against the government, are escorted by special police forces after the postponement of their interviews for asylum request at the Asylum Service in Athens, Greece, July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has rejected asylum requests from seven of eight Turkish soldiers who fled there after an abortive coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in July, their lawyer said on Tuesday.

The eight Turkish soldiers flew a military helicopter into northern Greece on July 16, hours after a coup attempt by elements of the military in Turkey started unraveling.

Turkey said they were involved in the coup attempt, an allegation the soldiers deny.

Four members of the group were informed on Tuesday their asylum claims had been rejected by a first-instance board, joining another three previously rejected. One of them has lodged an appeal while the asylum board has not issued a decision on the eighth applicant.

In a statement released by their lawyer, Stavroula Tomara, the soldiers said they believed the decision was guided by political expediency. She says they fear for their lives if are returned to Turkey.

“We came to Greece to save our lives, not be pawns of foreign policy and bilateral agreements. We have not been labeled terrorists even in our own country,” their statement said.

Authorities had previously said the soldiers failed to furnish Greek authorities with sufficient evidence that they were not involved in the coup.

Turkey had formally sought the extradition of the eight, describing them as “traitors” as Greece processed their asylum applications. It underscored occasionally strained relations between Athens and Ankara, NATO allies at odds over issues from Cyprus to air rights in the Aegean.

The eight - three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors - have been kept in protective custody pending the outcome of the asylum applications.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alison Williams