ISTANBUL - Former Turkish armed forces commander General Ilker Basbug failed to appear among defendants in a mass trial over suspected coup conspiracies, witnesses said, in an apparent protest at the merging of his case with other coup investigations.

The court held the first hearing on Monday combining a series of trials into suspected members of an alleged arch-nationalist network called Ergenekon.

Police say the Ergenekon network, uncovered in 2007, was trying to destabilize, discredit and ultimately overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party government.

A total of 16 indictments have been prepared against the defendants and they have now all been combined in a single case being heard at a court in Silivri, west of Istanbul, where many suspects have been held in an adjoining high security jail.

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