May 23, 2018 / 8:43 PM / 5 months ago

Top Greek court grants Turkish soldier asylum, rejects government appeal

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Turkish soldier who fled with seven others to Greece after a failed coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in 2016 should be granted asylum, a Greek court ruled on Wednesday, prompting an angry response from Ankara.

The Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, rejected an appeal by the leftist-led government against an administrative decision by an asylum board to grant asylum to the Turkish soldier, a judicial source said.

The case has posed a dilemma for Athens, keen to keep relations with Ankara on an even keel but also demonstrate respect for the independence of the judiciary.

Turkey has demanded the eight soldiers are handed over, accusing them of involvement in the abortive coup. The soldiers have denied wrongdoing and say they fear for their lives.

Greek courts have dismissed the Turkish demands, saying there were not convinced the eight would face a fair trial in their country.

Turkish EU Minister Omer Celik called the Council of State ruling “the most embarrassing decision a country can make”.

“The justice system of Greece, an EU member, decided to defend the terrorists who attempted a coup to overthrow democracy in Turkey,” he said on Twitter.

The soldiers - three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors - flew to Greece by helicopter on July 16, 2016, as the coup attempt against Erdogan crumbled.

The Greek government had appealed against the asylum board verdict on one of the soldiers, winning a temporary injunction suspending his asylum status “for reasons of public interest” until a formal court hearing.

The other soldiers’ asylum cases are still pending.

Once the Council of State ruling is officially registered, the Turkish soldier will be freed, the judicial source said.

Reporting by Constantinos Georgizas in Athens and Ezgi Erkoyun in Ankara, Writing by Angeliki Koutantou and Renee Maltezou; editing by John Stonestreet

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