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middle-east

Turkey puts 200 suspected military coup plotters on trial amid heavy security

ANKARA Turkey put on trial 200 suspects on Monday including senior military officers accused of plotting and orchestrating last year’s failed coup, in a court case where prosecutors are calling for life sentences.

The defendants, among them President Tayyip Erdogan’s aide-de-camp, the former head of Turkey’s air force, and dozens of generals, colonels and majors, were paraded on their way to court past dozens of protesters who demanded the death penalty and threw nooses towards them.

Around 1,500 security personnel were deployed for security at the trial, state-run Anadolu news agency reported, which was held in a purpose-built courthouse in Sincan on the outskirts of the Turkish capital.

More than 240 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the failed coup on July 15, 2016, when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.

Those on trial in Sincan included core suspects behind the coup who raided the state broadcaster and forced the presenter to read out an announcement saying the army had taken over and Turkey was being run by a committee they called “Peace at Home”.

Erdogan blames Fetullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric and a former ally, and his global network for orchestrating the coup, a charge Gulen denies . Turkish authorities have arrested nearly 50,000 people over alleged links with the preacher.

At the start of the hearing, families of the victims attending the trial screamed at the defendants, and one woman in the courtroom, whose son was killed during the coup, broke down.

“Kill these traitors, the murderers of my son,” she screamed before fainting . The judge called for a medical team to be brought into the courtroom.

From a total of 221 defendants, more than 200 are from the military and more than half of those were officers who held ranks from captains up to generals . All but 12 of the suspects, who are still at large, appeared in court . Gulen, who is among the defendants, is among those being tried in absentia.

Following confirmation of the suspects’ identity and the reading of a summary of the roughly 2,000-page indictment, suspects will be able to put forward their defence.

Hearings at the trial, one of the largest of several coup-related trials taking place across Turkey, are expected to last until June 16.

Citing the coup attempt as a grave threat to the state, Turkish authorities have also sacked or suspended around 150,000 civil servants, teachers, judges, prosecutors, police and soldiers and have shut down around 150 media outlets.

While the detentions may have been supported by some Turks in the immediate aftermath of the abortive putsch, criticism mounted as arrests widened to include groups of which many deny any connection to Gulen.

Many relatives of those detained or sacked since July say they have nothing to do with the armed attempt to overthrow the government, and are victims of a purge designed to consolidate Erdogan’s control.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)

China draft cyber law mandates security assessment for outbound data

BEIJING China’s top cyber authority on Tuesday released a draft law that would require firms exporting data to undergo an annual security assessment, in the latest of several recent safeguards against threats such as hacking and terrorism.

Any business transferring data of over 1000 gigabytes or affecting over 500,000 users will be assessed on its security measures and on the potential of the data to harm national interests, showed the draft from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The law would ban the export of any economic, technological or scientific data whose transfer would pose a threat to security or public interests . It would also require firms to obtain the consent of users before transmitting data abroad.

The proposed law, which focuses on personal information security, comes just a day after state media reported government rewards of $1,500 to $73,000 for citizens who report suspected spies.

It is also an extension of legislation passed in November formalizing a range of controls over firms that handle data in industries the government deems critical to national interests.

Business groups have criticized the November law, which is effective from June, calling rules “vague” and claiming they unfairly target foreign companies with stringent requirements.

Chinese officials denied that the November law targets foreign firms.

Under the rules released on Tuesday, sensitive geographic data such as information on marine environments would also be subject to scrutiny . Destination countries and the likelihood of oversees tampering would also be factored in to any assessments.

The draft is open for public comment until May 11.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Airport shooting rekindles security debate ahead of French election

PARIS Police on Sunday questioned relatives of a man shot dead by soldiers at a Paris airport as they sought clues about why he tried to seize an assault rifle in an incident that has pushed security to the top of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize the gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State . These include coordinated bombings and shootings in November 2015 in Paris when 130 people were killed and scores injured.

With the country in the throes of a highly-charged election campaign before a two-round presidential election in April and May, the attacks fueled the political debate about security.

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalized Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody for theft and he did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours earlier before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol after a routine traffic stop north of Paris before fleeing, officials said.

Later he entered a bar in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

“I SCREWED UP”

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but then released, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

Police said they were questioning a brother and cousin of Belgacem and an autopsy on the dead man would be carried out .

Molins said on Saturday they would be examining his telephone to establish with whom he had been in contact.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor .

French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

Presidential candidates responded swiftly to the incident.

Conservative Francois Fillon said that France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against a proposal to lift a state of emergency in place since the November 2015 attacks.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an anti-immigration, anti-EU ticket, said the Orly attacker could have caused a “massacre”.

“Our government is overwhelmed, stunned, paralyzed like a rabbit in the headlights,” she told an election rally.

(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Keith Weir)