Attorneys representing officers indicted after February's coup attempt in Spain have formally called upon King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to testify at the court-martial that will try their clients.

The attorneys contend that the officers acted in the belief that the putsch was backed by the monarch.

The request, dubbed a "political provocation" and a "grotesque maneuver" by the influential Madrid daily El Pais, forms part of written defense statements submitted to the military judicial authorities. They were leaked to the papers by the lawyers.

The king is not subject to the legal process, and liberal commentators in the press are interpreting the move as something of a publicity ploy, that is, a clear attempt by supporters of the revolt to discredit Juan Carlos, confuse public opinion and gain maximum political exposure for their cause from the court-martial.

At the time of the coup, the monarch emerged as the foremost defender of Spain's young democratic system with his call to the armed forces to remain loyal to the constitution. His address on national television as the Congress was being held hostage by the rebels gained him an considerable popularity across a broad spectrum of Spanish society. That popularity is, nevertheless, matched by deep enmity from the far right and military hard-liners.

Apart from the explosive contention that the king had prior knowledge of the coup, the leaked statements indicate that the indicted officers intend to turn the court-martial into a trial of Spain's democratic transition. The attorneys are also requesting testimony from government officials on lawlessness, political terrorism and economic mismanagement since dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco died in 1975. Presumably the lawyers want to justify what the far right has described as the "patriotic" action taken by the rebel officers.

The petition seeking the testimony of the king and queen rests on statements by Antonio Tejero, the Civil Guard colonel who led the seizure of the Congress. Tejero said he was told by Gen. Alfonso Armada, then the deputy chief of Army staff and a former member of the royal household staff, and by Gen. Jaime Milans del Bosch, then supreme commander of the eastern Valencia military region, that Juan Carlos had approved the coup.

Attorneys for the two generals, who are also indicted, said in separate statements issued to the press today that neither they nor their clients approved the petition seeking the testimony of Juan Carlos. The petition was issued on behalf of seven of the 33 defendants who are currently in prison awaiting the court-martial. The trial is not expected to get under way until early next year.