Turkish coup trial to be held where army once flexed its muscles

ISTANBUL - Officers accused of staging a failed coup in Turkey will stand trial in an Ankara district laden with symbolism for the country's recent history - the scene of an army show of strength before a "post-modern coup"ousted its first Islamist-led government in 1997.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said a new court house will be built in the district of Sincan, where the army paraded several dozen tanks and armoured vehicles on Feb. 4, 1997 after an Islamist protest attended by the Iranian ambassador.

Within months, Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan was forced from power by secular generals who used pressure behind the scenes rather than the kind of overt military force employed in three earlier coups.

Another Islamist politician at the time, the mayor of Istanbul, was tried for reading a poem which was seen as inciting hatred and jailed for four months in 1999. That man was Tayyip Erdogan, who is now Turkish president.

More than 13,000 people have been detained in connection with the July 15-16 attempt to overthrow Erdogan. Among the nearly 9,000 soldiers under arrest are around 160 generals and admirals.

Late last week, Bozdag said there are currently no courts in Turkey capable of handling such large numbers of defendants, hence the need for a new building. "It will be within the district borders of Sincan," he told broadcaster CNN Turk. "We have to create a place where the trial can be held in a sound way." The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper made clear the site was no coincidence. "Sincan was chosen especially for the prosecution of the putschists," it said.

The new court house, Turkey's largest, would accommodate 900 people within a prison complex in Sincan, it reported.

In the past decade, Turkey has held trials for hundreds of defendants, including many military officers, accused of involvement in two previous alleged coup attempts, dubbed"Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer".

Those trials were held in a court house in the Silivri prison complex, west of Istanbul.