Monday, July 18, 2016

Turkish soldiers in court after fleeing to Greece amid coup attempt

Eight soldiers who sought refuge in Greece have until Thursday to prepare for trial, as Turkish government calls for extradition
Police escort Turkish military officers to court in Alexandroupoli.Police escort Turkish military officers to court in Alexandroupoli. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstoc
in Athens
Dramatic developments in Turkey reverberated across the Aegean on Monday as eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece as the army attempted to overthrow the government in Ankara appeared in court charged with illegally entering the country.
Two days after landing a Black Hawk helicopter in the border town of Alexandroupoli, the military personnel, who have sought refuge in Greece, were given until Thursday to prepare for a trial that has unsettled officials in both countries.
Calling for their extradition, Turkey’s government has been quick to brand them traitors.
“They fear for their lives and do not believe they will be given a fair trial there,” said Vasiliki Marinaki, one of three Greek lawyers representing the men. “They insist they were not involved in the coup,” she added, saying that the officers had been on a mission to save wounded civilians when they decided to flee after coming under police fire.
The eight, who had initially removed the insignia from their uniforms but have since been identified as two colonels, four captains and two sergeants, left court handcuffed to each other in pairs.
Turkish officers escorted by Greek police officers leave court in AlexandroupoliTheir appearance – in civilian clothes and with heads covered – elicited howls of protest from members of Greece’s Turkish-speaking Muslim minority who had also gathered for the hearing.
Marinaki said she had asked that all eight remain in detention for security reasons.
The sight of the Black Hawk not only entering Greek airspace but requesting to make an emergency landing after issuing a May Day alert unnerved the leftist-led Athens government and military top brass, who immediately demanded the scrambling of F-16 fighter jets.
Though Nato allies, the two countries are also long-time regional foes that have clashed over Cyprus and come close to war on numerous occasions. This is the first time Turkish military personnel have requested asylum in Greece.
The attempted coup had barely been foiled when Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to demand that the men be speedily returned.
Turkish military helicopter at Alexandroupolis airport
“Politically and diplomatically it is a hot potato for Greece,” the defence expert Thanos Dokos told the Guardian. “This is a government that is sensitive to human rights issues but also knows that the cost of not sending them back could be great. Ultimately much will depend on whether the death penalty is reinstated [in Turkey].”
With officials in crisis-hit Greece also concerned about the ability of Turkish authorities to stop new waves of migrants pouring into the country following the coup, Athens has attempted to walk a middle line.
On Monday, the deputy defence minister, Dimitris Vitsas, insisted that while the asylum requests had to be dealt with under international law, Turkey had a strong argument for their extradition because the officers were accused of participating in an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government.

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