Ankara:A Turkish court today handed life sentences to two ageing generals behind a 1980 military takeover, the bloodiest in Turkey`s coup-ridden history.
Kenan Evren, 96, and Tahsin Sahinkaya, 89, were found guilty of setting the stage for a military intervention, ousting the civilian government by force and committing acts against the forces of the state.
Prosecutors had demanded so-called aggravated life sentences for Evren, who became president after the coup, and Sahinkaya, the former air force commander -- which would have placed harsher conditions on their detention.
The ruling sparked cheers and applause from the public gallery inside the courtroom, who chanted: "This is just the beginning, the coup authors will pay the price".
The generals, who have now been stripped of their ranks, seized power on September 12, 1980 but were only brought to trial in 2012 after the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party introduced constitutional changes.
Evren and Sahinkaya, who are being treated at military hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul respectively, appeared via video screens for today`s hearing.
The two have been unable to attend any hearings because of their poor health. They told the judge they had "nothing to add".
Their lawyer, Bulent Acar, denounced the charges.
"This court is not competent to judge the suspects," he said, adding with a hint of irony that the "suspects are being tried according to the constitution that was drafted during the incriminated period."
Although there have been amendments in the intervening years, the constitution introduced by the junta in 1982 is still in force, despite being criticised as "draconian" by subsequent critics.
It is not yet clear if the former generals -- who appeared feeble over the video link -- will actually serve their sentences in prison, and they may yet appeal the ruling.
In his first testimony in 2012, Evren had said he had no remorse over his actions and that it was "the right thing to do at that time".
"If I had to re-do it all again, I would do the same thing. The Turkish armed forces on 12 September 1980 accomplished their duty to the people."
Outside the Ankara court today, a crowd of about 200 protesters held pictures of people who were executed or died in jail during the military rule that followed the coup. A large banner read: "We don`t forgive we don`t forget September 12".