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Former Turkish president could face life in prison for role in coup

Kenan Evren, the leader of Turkey’s 1980 military coup.

ANKARA, Turkey - The ailing, 94-year-old former Turkish president who came to power in a 1980 military coup could face life imprisonment for the military takeover, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya, a former air force commander, are charged with crimes against the state, said prosecutor Huseyin Gorusen. A court will have to decide whether to accept the indictment and order a trial.

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Evren, who as military chief of staff led the 1980 coup before becoming Turkey’s president from 1982 to 1989, was questioned by Gorusen in June, after constitutional amendments lifted the coup leaders’ immunity and allowed them to be brought to trial.

The legal action against Evren and Sahinkaya - the two surviving coup leaders - comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, which has won three successive elections, is curtailing the military’s clout in Turkey.

Authorities are also pursuing a series of trials against hundreds of people accused of involvement in more recent alleged coup plots, including hundreds of active and retired military officers. The trials were welcomed at first, but long imprisonments without verdicts and alleged irregularities in the handling of evidence have stirred claims that the government is manipulating the legal process.

Evren was initially regarded as a hero by many Turks because the military takeover stopped fighting between leftist and right-wing groups that made some people wonder whether Turkey was headed for a civil war. But he is also accused of the torture of suspected militants and their supporters and remembered for introducing a constitution that restricted freedoms and formalized the military’s role in politics.

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