Turkey seeks life sentences for 60 ex-military over 1997 'post-modern coup'

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Sixty people including a former military chief faced demands for life jail terms over a 1997 campaign of army pressure, known in Turkey as the “post-modern” coup, that toppled the country’s first Islamist-led government, state media said on Thursday.

Coups in 1960 and 1980 and a failed 2016 putsch involved overt army use of force, but the resignation of prime minister Necmettin Erbakan followed warnings and only a brief appearance of tanks in a provincial town. It is an action that has long rankled with current Islamist-rooted President Tayyip Erdogan.

In his final opinion on the case, the prosecutor said the army action, which did not result in any direct military rule, constituted a real coup attempt and could not be defined as “post-modern”, broadcaster NTV reported.

Among those facing life sentences are General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, 85, who was chief of general staff between 1994 and 1998, and his deputy at the time General Cevik Bir, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The investigation into the unseating of Erbakan, who led a coalition government, is one of a series of court cases that have targeted the formerly all powerful secularist military in recent years.

The army’s influence has been curbed drastically under Erdogan, who first came to power in 2003 and who was a member of Erbakan’s Welfare Party at the time of the government’s ouster.

A total of 103 people, mostly retired generals, had been named in the trial’s 1,300-page indictment, accused of “overthrowing by force, and participating in the overthrow” of a government.

While aggravated life sentences were sought for 60 defendants, the prosecutor asked for the acquittal of 39 other defendants, NTV reported. The four other defendants have died since the court case began in 2013.

Last year, rogue soldiers commandeered warplanes, tanks and helicopters in a failed coup which killed 250 people and which Ankara has blamed on U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. He has denied involvement.

Erbakan, who died in 2011, pioneered Islamist politics in Turkey, a Muslim country with a secular state system, paving the way for the later success of Erdogan’s AK Party.

Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and