Turkey sentences 24 'coup ringleaders' to life in prison

Seventeen of the accused were given 141 aggravated life terms each over the deaths of 139 people

FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2017 file photo, paramilitary police and members of the special forces escort former Air Force commander Akin Ozturk and other suspects of a failed coup in 2016, outside the courthouse at the start of a trial, in Ankara, Turkey. Turkey's state-run news agency says Thursday, June 20, 2019, a court in Ankara has sentenced several people, including Ozturk, accused of being the ringleaders of the 2016 failed military coup, to life terms in prison. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)
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A Turkish court on Thursday gave life sentences to 24 people in one of the biggest trials over the 2016 failed bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, state media reported.

Of the 24, the judge gave 17 accused 141 aggravated life terms each over the deaths of 139 people, for "violating the constitution" and "attempting to assassinate the president", state news agency Anadolu reported.

Such sentences carry harsher prison conditions.

Former air force chief Akin Ozturk and Mehmet Disli, the brother of former ruling party lawmaker Saban Disli, who since September has served as Turkey's ambassador to the Netherlands, were among the 17.

There was a tense atmosphere minutes before the judge issued his verdicts with dozens of people including relatives of those killed during the coup bid in July 2016, lambasting the court for not allowing them to enter.

Saliha Arigan, whose son was killed on the night of the failed overthrow, pressed herself against the gates, crying and shouting to be allowed inside.

"The state should be ashamed," she said. Even as the verdicts were handed down, the strained mood continued with further attempts by individuals to enter the courtroom complex by force.

An AFP correspondent was not allowed to enter the courtroom by police.

24 coup-plotters killed

The trial began in May 2017 in the country's largest courtroom inside a prison complex in Sincan, outside the capital Ankara.

The court also handed down an aggravated life sentence for "violating the constitution" to Colonel Ali Yazici, Erdogan's former military aide, Anadolu reported.

Yazici was sentenced before to 18 years in jail in 2017 after a trial of dozens who plotted to assassinate Mr Erdogan at a luxury Aegean hotel during the coup attempt.

More verdicts are expected from the trial.

Among the total 224 suspects on trial in Sincan over the coup bid was US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of ordering the attempted putsch.

Mr Gulen, who strongly denies the claims, is being tried in absentia as Turkey has failed to secure his extradition.

The judge ordered the case of 13 fugitives including Mr Gulen to be separated from the main coup ringleaders' trial.

The failed overthrow left 248 people dead, according to the Turkish presidency, not including 24 coup-plotters killed on the night.

Nearly 290 coup-linked court cases have been launched, 261 of which ended with 3,239 defendants convicted, according to justice ministry figures given to AFP before the verdicts.