Turkish prosecutor seeks life sentences for 16 over 2013 Gezi protests: state media

FILE PHOTO: A protester wears a gas mask as riot police fire tear gas during clashes with riot police at Istiklal Street in central Istanbul late July 13, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish prosecutor is seeking aggravated life sentences for 16 defendants including businessman Osman Kavala for financing widespread protests around Turkey in 2013 and attempting to overthrow the government, state media said on Wednesday.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul in 2013 to protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on Gezi park in the city center. The protests turned into nationwide anti-government demonstrations and amounted to a direct challenge to President Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Authorities recently renewed their efforts to investigate the protests, a move opposition figures said was designed to polarize public opinion and rally support for Erdogan ahead of local elections next month.

Erdogan says the protests were organized and financed by Kavala, a businessman, and rights activists. Kavala has been in pre-trial detention in connection with the investigation for more than 15 months. He has denied the claim against him.

The indictment against Kavala was delivered to the court on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster TRT, which added that the investigation into the Gezi protests had been completed.

TRT said the defendants included famous actor Mehmet Ali Alabora, who was vocal during the protests, and journalist Can Dundar, who fled abroad after being sentenced to jail for over espionage charges and is being tried in absentia in other cases.

In November, police detained more than a dozen people as part of the investigation into the Gezi protests, while George Soros’s Open Society Foundation said it would cease operations in Turkey after it became a target of the investigation.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen, Editing by William Maclean