Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, unseen, in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. (AP Photo)
ISTANBUL (AP) — Some 275 people — including military officers, politicians and journalists — on Monday were facing verdicts in a landmark trial in Turkey over an alleged conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.
The ruling caps a five-year trial that has been a central drama in tensions between the country's secular elite and Erdogan's Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party.
The defendants are accused of plotting high-profile attacks that prosecutors said were aimed at sowing chaos in Turkey to prepare the way for a military coup.
The prosecutions have helped Erdogan's government reshape Turkey's military and assert civilian control in a country that had seen three military coups since 1960.
The defendants are accused of being part of an alleged ultranationalist and pro-secular gang called Ergenekon, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of Turks.
In thousands of pages of indictment, prosecutors maintained that the gang was behind a series of violent acts — including one in 2006 on a courthouse that killed a judge — that were made to look as though they were carried out by Islamic militants, in a bid to create turmoil and provoke a military intervention.
Prosecutors say the gang also plotted to kill Erdogan, Nobel laureate author Orhan Pamuk and other high-profile figures.
The defendants have rejected the accusations.
Prosecutors have demanded life prison terms for 64 of the defendants, mostly on terrorism charges. Others face up to 15 years in prison for possession of firearms or membership in Ergenekon.
The case has polarized the country between those who see it as an opportunity to unravel a shadowy network of ultranationalists known as the "Deep State" that allegedly acted behind the scenes with impunity, and those who believe it is a government attempt to muzzle Erdogan's secular-minded foes and undermine Turkey's secular legacy.
Police on Monday blocked hundreds of demonstrators from reaching the courthouse in Silivri, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Istanbul, in a show of solidarity with the defendants.
The suspects include former military chief Ilker Basbug, who is accused of leading an Internet campaign to stir revolt.
Journalist Mustafa Balbay, the Ankara representative of pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper, Mehmet Haberal, a surgeon and founder of a university in Ankara, and retired general Engin Alan are also on trial. All three were elected to Parliament in 2011 while in prison but were not able to take their seats.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.
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