Turkey’s main opposition party leader has concluded his weeks-long “March for Justice” from Ankara to Istanbul with a huge rally, reportedly attended by hundreds of thousands protesting against the government’s crackdown on dissent.
The US Secretary of State has lauded the courage of the Turkish people who defended their country and democracy during last year’s military coup attempt, which Ankara pinned on the followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“I take this moment to recognize their courage and honor the victims of the events of July 15, 2016. It was on that day that the Turkish people exercised their rights under the Turkish constitution, defended their place in a prosperous Turkey, and we remember those who were injured or died in that event,” he added.
Germany has begun the process of withdrawing its troops from the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, from where German troops have been carrying out reconnaissance missions as part of the US-led coalition’s campaign in Syria and Iraq. The move follows tensions with Ankara.
The process of transferring military aircraft and personnel from the Turkish airbase to a new location in Jordan will result in the suspension German participation within the US-led coalition for at least two or three months, the German Defense Ministry said earlier.
Organizers put the number of the protesters at more than a million, while pro-government media estimated the turnout to be at around 110,000 people, AP reports. In general, local media reported that the gathering was attended by “tens” or even “hundreds” of thousands of Turks.
Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said 15,000 police officers provided security at the post-march rally, as reported by AP.
Kilicdaroglu had called on the demonstrators not to bring any political symbols or party flags to the rally as he wanted the protest to be a non-partisan affair.
The massive crowd gathered outside the Maltepe prison in Istanbul Sunday, to greet the Turkish Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who finished his 450-kilometer 25-day march from Ankara.
“When we hold this rally, I do not want anything except the Turkish flag, the ‘justice banner’ and the poster of [Kemal] Ataturk [the founder of modern Turkey]. I do not want the [CHP’s] political flag with six arrows. We all just want justice. We live under our national flag together. We do not consider it suitable for those to carry other flags. We also consider those carrying other flags as provocateurs,” he said ahead of the event, as cited by the Turkish Hurriyet daily.
March organizers also said they wanted the event to express “a collective, nonpartisan desire for an independent and fair judicial system” which they believe is lacking in Turkey.
Erdogan also told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at a party congress that the CHP “had gone beyond being a political opposition and taken on a different proportion” and accused it of siding with the militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the alleged mastermind of the failed July 15 coup, exiled US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Turkish authorities launched a massive crackdown on alleged coup supporters as well as opposition figures and journalists following the attempted coup. More than 50,000 people were arrested and more than 150,000 civil servants, police officers and soldiers were dismissed as part of the crackdown. A dozen lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have also been jailed.
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