Protest over Turkey conspiracy trial

Thousands of Turkish secularists protested outside a court near Istanbul on Thursday against the trial of nearly 300 people charged with attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government.

Security forces wielded batons and fired pepper spray to keep crowds behind barricades in front of the courthouse at the sprawling Silivri prison complex, where dozens of the defendants have been in jail for much of the four-year trial.

Those in the dock include politicians, academics, journalists and retired army officers accused of membership of a shadowy underground network of ultra-nationalists.

The alleged group, “Ergenekon”, is accused of orchestrating decades of political violence, extra-judicial killings and bomb attacks, and most recently of trying to topple Erdogan.

Rivalry between religious and secular elites is one of the major fault lines in Turkish public life. The case is emblematic of Erdogan’s long-standing battle with secularist opponents, and one of a series of conspiracy trials that he describes as a struggle against anti-democratic forces.

State prosecutors were set to present their final statements later on Thursday. Erdogan’s critics say the trial is part of efforts to stifle opponents of his AK Party (AKP), whose strong strain of religious conservatism they see as undermining Turkey’s secular foundations. There were calls for the government to resign among slogans chanted by the crowds. “Turkey is secular and will remain secular!”, “The AKP will have to answer to the people!”.

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