US-based cleric 'to be tried by Turkey for terrorist conspiracy'

Istanbul (AFP) - An influential Turkish cleric will go on trial in absentia in January on terrorism charges for allegedly conspiring to bring down President Recep Tayyip Erdogan through a vast government corruption probe, local media reported Monday.

Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan turned arch-enemy who lives in exile in the United States, is charged with "running a terrorist group" which launched a probe into the president's inner circle in 2013.

The first hearing was set for January 6, with Gulen expected to be tried in absentia, news agency Dogan reported.

The Istanbul court also issued a fresh arrest warrant for Gulen after judges approved the 1,453 page-long indictment against him and 69 other suspects.

Erdogan accuses Gulen of trying to topple him by persuading allies in Turkey's police force and judiciary to launch a vast probe into government corruption in December 2013, which led to the resignation of four ministers.

Turkey's authorities responded by purging both the police force and judiciary of pro-Gulen elements and arresting news editors and businessmen.

The cleric, who left for the US in 1999 to escape charges of anti-secular activities by the government at the time, denies the latest allegations.

Turkish authorities have ramped up their campaign against Pennsylvania-based Gulen in recent months ahead of the November 1 snap polls.

The movement played a part in the early electoral success of Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK party but the relationship between the cleric and president degenerated as the latter became increasingly worried about Gulen's bid for power.

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