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Turkish police deny beating student to death in June protests

KAYSERI, Turkey--Four Turkish policemen on Monday denied beating to death a 19-year-old student in mass anti-government protests that rocked the country last June, as they went on trial amid heavy security.

The high-profile murder case comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan battles his biggest political crisis in 11 years in power, which has hit the economy and is threatening the strongman's presidential ambitions.

“I had my truncheon but not a baseball bat, as claimed by the prosecution,” Savan Gekvunar, head of the police unit accused of killing Ali Ismail Korkmaz on June 2, told the court in Kayseri, central Turkey.

“I took part in no arrest and I didn't hit anyone ... I wasn't there when the events took place.”

His colleague Mevlut Saldogan, accused of administering a kick to the head that caused Korkmaz a brain haemorrhage, also denied the charges, saying: “I only poked him with my foot.”

A third, Huseyin Engin, said, “I don't even know what you are talking about. I was in a different street where my superiors had ordered me to contain the crowd.”

Policeman Yalcin Akbulut also rejected the charges, but baker Ebubekir Harlar, one of the four other defendants — none of them police — told the court the officers had “beaten (the student) to death.”

In an attack captured by security cameras, Korkmaz was pummelled with baseball bats and truncheons in the western city of Eskisehir and died after 38 days in a coma.

He was one of six people to perish as three weeks of protests that began as a sit-in against plans to build on an Istanbul park convulsed the country of 76 million, spiraling into nationwide anti-government unrest.

More than 8,000 people were injured in the demos, the Turkish Medical Association says.

Erdogan called the demonstrators “vandals” and police used tear gas, plastic bullets and, according to Amnesty International, even live ammunition on the demonstrators. Thousands were arrested.

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