Turkey court withdraws from protester killing trial

AFP , Monday 2 Dec 2013

File Photo: Riot police use a water cannon to disperse protesters in central Istanbul July 8, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A Turkish court on Monday withdrew from the highly-charged trial of a riot policeman accused of killing a protester during mass street demonstrations this year because of concerns over its impartiality.

As riot police looked on, hundreds of people staged a rally outside the main courthouse in Ankara for the latest hearing in the case against an officer identified only as Ahmet S.

Judge Affak Illez said the court had decided to refer the case to a higher tribunal because of concerns voiced by the victim's family about its impartiality and allegations of political pressure on the judiciary.

The policeman is accused of shooting 26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk in Ankara during the first days of the demonstrations that erupted in June against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The defendant, who appeared in the dock at the start of his trial in September wearing a wig and a fake moustache to hide his identity, attended Monday's session via video-conference, also disguised.

In a video of the June 1 shooting widely broadcast on the Internet, the victim was seen suddenly collapsing on the street in front of the helmeted police officer, who then fled the scene.

The officer faces a charge of "exceeding legitimate self-defence" and risks a prison term of up to five years.

Outside the court, around 700 flag-waving Turks gathered in support of the victim, shouting anti-government slogans such as "Ethem was shot dead by AKP police," referring to Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The June unrest was sparked by the heavy-handed police crackdown on a local battle to save an Istanbul park which snowballed into nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan's conservative religious policies and what critics claim is his increasingly authoritarian rule.

Six people were killed and more than more than 8,000 injured.

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