ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court on Thursday blocked a second extradition request by Turkey for the final two soldiers among a group of eight who fled to Greece following a failed coup attempt last year, drawing an angry rebuke from Ankara.
The drawn-out case has highlighted often strained relations between Greece and Turkey, NATO allies which remain at odds over issues from territorial disputes to ethnically-split Cyprus.
Turkey alleges the men were involved in efforts to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan last July and has branded them traitors. It has repeatedly demanded they be sent back.
Addressing the court, the prosecutor acknowledged such a ruling “may cause discomfort” in Turkey but said the reasons for rejection had not changed since January, when Greece’s top court first denied the extradition request.
“Has torture stopped? Persecutions?” he asked. “If it looks itself in the mirror, modern Turkey will understand why one denial comes after another -- not only from Greece but also from other countries -- for the release of alleged coup plotters.”
Turkey’s foreign ministry was swift to denounce the decision as “political” and said it would inevitably impact relations between the long-standing foes.
“The Greek judiciary, which we hoped would be fair and impartial, has once again disappointed us,” it said in a statement.
Turkey has previously threatened to scrap a bilateral migration deal with Greece among other measures if the men are not returned.
The group of eight soldiers includes three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors. The extradition requests for the other six were refused in the past two weeks.
The eight soldiers landed a helicopter in northern Greece on July 16, a day after the failed putsch, and sought asylum, saying they feared for their lives in Turkey where authorities have since purged large numbers from the military and civil service.
They deny the charges of attempting to abrogate the constitution, attempting to dissolve parliament, violently seizing a helicopter and attempting to assassinate Erdogan.
The men are to be held in detention until their asylum applications are processed.
Reporting by Constantinos Georgizas in ATHENS, Orhan Coskun, Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in ANKARA; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Richard Lough