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Turkey to mull proposals for military re-trial

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SUZAN FRASER | January 4, 2014 02:06 PM EST | AP

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is considering legal arrangements that could lead to the re-trial of hundreds of military officers and other people who were convicted of plotting to topple the government, the head of Turkey's bar association said Saturday.

Hundreds of people have been jailed in Turkey for separate alleged plots to overthrow the government soon after it came to power in 2002. They include the country's former military chief and other top commanders.

But the legitimacy of their trials was questioned recently after Erdogan's top political adviser suggested that those officers had been framed by groups within the police and judiciary whom the government is now accusing of orchestrating a massive corruption probe that has targeted the prime minister's allies.

The military this week filed a legal complaint, asking prosecutors to look into the claims as well as accusations by government officials that the corruption probe is a conspiracy by a group that has allegedly infiltrated the judiciary and police.

Metin Feyzioglu, the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, told reporters after a meeting with Erdogan that the two discussed a set of legal proposals that could lead to the re-trial of the military officers and other people accused of plotting against the government.

Erdogan responded in a "warm and positive" manner to the proposals and instructed Turkey's justice minister to work with the Union on possible legal changes, said Feyzioglu.

He said under his group's proposal, cases currently being assessed by a high court of appeals would be returned to a lower court for a review, while new trials would be opened for cases which have already been finalized by the higher court.

All cases would be heard by ordinary criminal courts, instead of the more controversial special courts that oversee terror and security cases, Feyzioglu said.

The military officers and their supporters have long complained of unfair treatment and of fabricated evidence during trials.

The government has pointed fingers at the followers of a U.S.-based moderate Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for the corruption investigation, which has ensnared the sons of three former government ministers and the head of a state-owned bank. Gulen, who is based in Pennsylvania and commands a global empire of business, media and education interests, has denied any involvement in the investigation.

Turkey's secular military has staged three military takeovers since the 1960s, but has seen its powers curbed by the decade-long rule of Erdogan's Islam-based government. The trial of the military officers helped end its hold on politics.

Turkish media reports said the military chief has requested the government's help for a review of the officers' cases. Some analysts see that as a sign of an uneasy alliance forming between Erdogan's government and the military against the Gulen movement.

In a separate legal development on Saturday, three Kurdish legislators were released from prison after the country's highest court ruled that the lawmakers' long detention periods pending trial were against the constitution. A similar ruling on Friday led to the release of two other legislators who were on trial for alleged links to Kurdish rebels.

Two legislators from Turkey's main opposition secular party who had been jailed for allegedly plotting against Erdogan's government were released late last year and in August in a similar high court ruling.