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Prosecutor says Ergenekon proven, seeks life for ex-army chief

A lead prosecutor involved in the trial of the Ergenekon criminal network on Monday presented his final opinion to the panel of judges at an İstanbul court, stating that the “existence of a terrorist organization” had been proven, and asked the court to hand down life sentences to the prime suspects in the case. The prosecutor's final opinion came after a series of delays. According to the Turkish judicial system, the presentation of the final opinion means that the Ergenekon trial will conclude shortly. Prosecutor Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel planned to present his opinion to judges at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which is hearing the case against Ergenekon, on Dec. 13 of last year but protests and disorder sparked by suspects and observers in the courthouse during the hearing on that day and in the following hearings prevented him from doing so. The court convened on Monday for the 281st hearing. The prosecutor handed over a file containing the 2,271-page final opinion to the panel of judges. In the opinion, the prosecutor argued that the existence of a terrorist organization had been proven during the course of the Ergenekon investigation. The Ergenekon trial began in 2008. There are 275 defendants who face charges, 66 of whom have been jailed pending a verdict. Those accused of membership in the Ergenekon organization include politicians, academics, journalists and retired military officers.
 
In his final opinion, the prosecutor sought aggravated life sentences for 24 suspects, including former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, retired generals Hurşit Tolon, Hasan Iğsız and Nusret Taşdeler, Col. Dursun Çiçek, journalist Tuncay Özkan, Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek, journalist Mustafa Balbay, former İnönü University Rector Fatih Hilmioğlu, former Higher Education Board (YÖK) President Kemal Gürüz and the General Staff's legal adviser Hıfzı Çubuklu in accordance with Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which criminalizes attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey. The prosecutor also demanded four aggravated life sentences for neo-nationalist lawyer Alparslan Aslan, who shot dead a senior judge at the Council of State in 2006.
 
Başbuğ was initially arrested on charges of establishing and administering a terrorist organization, but the prosecutor demanded on Monday that he be acquitted of that charge, but convicted for attempting to overthrow the government. In addition, the prosecutor demanded that 96 suspects in the case, including retired Col. Arif Doğan, gang leader Sedat Peker and mafia boss Semih Tufan Gülaltay, be punished with a prison term of up to 15 years on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. The prosecutor also asked the court to acquit Ali Yiğit, who was previously detained and later released following the seizure of a large number of hand grenades in his house in the Ümraniye district of İstanbul. Yiğit stood accused of becoming a member of Ergenekon and illegal possession of explosives.
 
The existence of Ergenekon, a behind-the-scenes network attempting to use social and psychological engineering to shape the country in accordance with its own ultranationalist ideology, has long been suspected, but the investigation into the group did not begin until 2007, when police discovered the grenades in Yiğit's house. The prosecutor asked the court to drop the cases against three other suspects who died during the course of the Ergenekon trial. In addition, he said the court should deal with the five major Ergenekon suspects, including former İstanbul Mayor Bedrettin Dalan and former deputy Turan Çömez, in a separate case. The five men left the country shortly after the launch of the Ergenekon investigation, and they are still on the run.
 
Some of the suspects in the trial left the courtroom in protest after hearing the prosecutor's demand for lengthy sentences.

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