Greek court rules against extradition of three Turkish soldiers: lawyer

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court ruled against the extradition to Turkey of three Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after an abortive coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in July, their lawyer and court officials said on Monday.

 

Turkey alleges the three were involved in the failed July 16 coup and has branded them traitors. They all deny playing a role in the attempt to dislodge Erdogan from power that led to a purge within the country's military and civil service.

 

The case has exposed the sometimes-strained relations between Athens and Ankara, NATO allies who are at odds over issues from Cyprus to air rights over the Aegean.

 

"I am very pleased with the ruling, they shouldn't have been extradited.. The court was objective," their lawyer Stavroula Tomara told Reuters.

The state prosecutor said the lives of the soldiers would be in danger if they were returned to their home country and the court agreed, court officials said on condition of anonymity.

The trio are among a group of eight Turkish soldiers facing extradition from Greece. They include three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors.

The soldiers have been kept in protective custody pending the outcome of their asylum applications.

A first-instance board has rejected the asylum claims made by five of the soldiers. They have appealed that decision. The others are still waiting for a decision on their requests.

The court on Monday said the soldiers must be released and recognized as asylum seekers pending a final ruling on their claims for political asylum in Greece.

The court was expected to rule on the extradition of another three soldiers on Tuesday and two more on Thursday, one of the court officials said.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by Richard Lough)