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Life sentences sought for 30 with ties to Turkish newspaper

Associated Press logo Associated Press 27/04/2017 By ZEYNEP BILGINSOY, Associated Press
Turkish police officers escort women into a courthouse in Bursa, Turkey, arrested on suspicion of having links with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Thursday, April 27, 2017. Twenty-five people were detained in Turkey and more than 200 police officers temporarily suspended from their jobs Thursday for suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, following a massive sweep the day before in connection with last summer's failed coup attempt. Gulen has denied the accusations. (Berktug Oncu/DHA-Depo Photos via AP) © The Associated Press Turkish police officers escort women into a courthouse in Bursa, Turkey, arrested on suspicion of having links with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Thursday, April 27, 2017. Twenty-five people were detained in Turkey and more than 200 police officers temporarily suspended from their jobs Thursday for suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, following a massive sweep the day before in connection with last summer's failed coup attempt. Gulen has denied the accusations. (Berktug Oncu/DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

ISTANBUL — A Turkish court accepted a criminal indictment demanding life imprisonment for 30 people with ties to a newspaper linked to a Muslim cleric whom the government accuses of masterminding a coup attempt.

Turkey's official Anadolu news agency said the defendants, including former managers and columnists for the Zaman newspaper, were charged with "membership in an armed terror organization" and "attempting to overthrow" the country's government, Parliament and constitutional order.

The prosecutor is seeking sentences of 7 ½ to 10 years plus three consecutive life-terms for each person charged.

Zaman was raided in March 2016 after a court placed it under the management of trustees and later shuttered for allegedly serving as a mouthpiece for the movement founded by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The move also affected sister newspaper Today's Zaman, which published in English.

Twenty-one of the 30 suspects are in pre-trial detention, including 73-year-old columnist Sahin Alpay, who was arrested following the failed coup attempt last summer. The first hearing is scheduled for September 18.

The indictment comes amid a massive crackdown and trials on suspected followers of Gulen, who has denied orchestrating the failed coup. More than 47,000 people have been arrested and an estimated 100,000 civil servants dismissed since the July coup attempt.

In a vast operation that started Wednesday across all of Turkey's 81 provinces, 1,157 "secret imams" were detained on suspicion of directing Gulen supporters within the country's police forces.

Twenty-five of them were detained in southeast Turkey and are being held on suspicion of "membership in an armed terror organization" and "recruiting members," the governor's office in the Gaziantep region said Thursday. The statement said 41 alleged Gulen operatives were still on the run and five were abroad.

The daily Hurriyet newspaper reported that Turkey's intelligence agency cracked a microchip retrieved during an earlier arrest that allegedly contained a 7,000-person list of "secret imams" and other Gulen followers working in state institutions.

Police announced the temporary suspension late Wednesday of 9,103 law enforcement personnel across Turkey who are being investigated for connections and communications with the Gulen network "threatening national security."

The German government slammed the detentions Wednesday, and Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament Thursday that "there is no question that the developments of the past weeks have strongly strained German-Turkish and European-Turkish relations."

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David Rising in Berlin contributed to this story.

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