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Turkey packs 486 defendants in courtroom for massive coup trial

Almost 500 defendants appeared in Turkish court Tuesday standing charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government in last July’s bloody coup attempt. It’s the largest coup-related trial to date, taking place in a massive Ankara courtroom built specifically to handle such cases.

Relatives of those killed in the coup attempt gathered outside the building, chanting “We want the death penalty” and throwing nooses at the 486 defendants, which included high-level army generals, as they were ushered into the courthouse by armed soldiers.

The accused face a range of charges, including trying to overthrow parliament, leading an armed terrorist organization, and trying to assassinate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to state-run news agency Anadolu.

On July 15, 2016, rebel factions of the Turkish military launched the bloodiest coup attempt in the country’s political history, sending soldiers into the streets and using fighter jets to drop bombs on their own parliament. Over 240 were killed and some 2,200 injured in the violence.

Since the coup, Erdoğan has ruled Turkey under a state of emergency, leading a crackdown on independent media, jailing over 47,000 people on terrorism charges, and dismissing over 100,000 public officials over alleged coup links, according to Human Rights Watch.

In April, Erdoğan claimed victory in a referendum that will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government and abolish the country’s current parliamentary political system. Those moves, viewed alongside his ongoing purge and mass arrests, have led to fears that Turkey is lurching toward dictatorship.