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Istanbul Crowd Protests Crackdown on Rights

Massive Istanbul Crowd Protests Erdogan's Crackdown on Rights (Photo by VOA News - for education only)

Massive Istanbul Crowd Protests Erdogan’s Crackdown on Rights (Photo by VOA News – for education only)

Webpublicapress – WASHINGTON (VOA News) Tens of thousands of people massed in Istanbul Sunday to protest Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on critics of his government in the wake of last year’s failed military coup, VOA News reported quoting other news agencies.

The demonstrators chanted “Rights, Law, Justice” in support of the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was completing a 450-kilometer walk from the capital Ankara after a lawmaker from his party was imprisoned in June.

It was the biggest protest in several years against Erdogan, whose government has arrested more than 50,000 people and dismissed at least 100,000 civil servants he has characterized as supporters of the aborted coup. Turkey claims the coup was led by a cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States for nearly two decades. Gulen denies any involvement.

The 68-year-old Kilicdaroglu’s 25-day march at first drew modest support, about 1,000 people who walked alongside him. But the crowds swelled in recent days as he neared Istanbul.

Kilicdaroglu, the head of the secularist Republican People’s Party, said that his march “cast off a shirt of fear” of Erdogan’s rule. “If only there was no need for this march and there was democracy, media freedoms, if civic society groups could freely express their opinions.”

Erdogan criticized Kilicdaroglu when he embarked on the march, saying justice should be sought in parliament, not on the streets.

The Turkish opposition says that Erdogan’s government has been moving toward authoritarianism, while the Turkish leader says that the crackdown on rights is necessary to thwart security threats to the ruling government.

According to the Hurriyet Daily News (in English) the opposition leader said the final day of the ‘justice march’ is a new beginning and a new step. It’s not the end of a march. It’s a day of peace and a joint will for life,” he said.

The CHP, under the leadership of Kılıçdaroğlu, launched its march from Ankara on June 15 after its Istanbul deputy Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in prison on June 14 on charges of providing daily Cumhuriyet with video footage purporting to show weapons-loaded National Intelligence Agency (MİT) trucks heading to Syria.

The march was initially planned to end in front of Maltepe Prison, where Berberoğlu is held, but the party decided to hold a large rally instead.

During his speech, Kılıçdaroğlu said they had carried out “the most peaceful political act in history.”

“We walked for nonexistent justice. We walked for the rights of victims, jailed lawmakers and journalists.

We walked for academics dismissed from universities. It’s a complete shame in a democracy to fire academics with state of emergency decrees,” he said, referring to decree laws issued after the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt, widely believed to have been masterminded by the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

“Now they ask why we are seeking justice in the street. Remember it was the honorable stance of parliament and our people who hit the streets to stop the July 15 coup attempt,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, noting that the meaning of July 15 was different for “the people” and “the palace.”

He described the post-coup attempt measures, which came with the state of emergency declared on July 20, 2016, as “the July 20 civil coup.”

“We marched for those dismissed from their public duties, for child workers, for villagers, for jailed and lynched soldiers. We walked because we are against a one-man regime and FETÖ. We walked because we are against terrorist organizations and because of the fact that the judiciary has been taken under the orders of politics,” he said, also referring to hunger striking educators Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça.

The CHP leader read out a 10-item list of demands, vowing to continue struggling until these demands are met. These demands included revealing the “political leg of the thwarted coup, giving back parliament its authority, lifting the state of emergency, putting an end to the ‘civil death’ of state of emergency victims, securing judicial independence, releasing jailed lawmakers and journalists, reestablishing a strong parliamentary democracy, ending poverty and unemployment, and a pursuing a peaceful, fair foreign policy.

After walking for a total of 450 kilometers from Ankara to Istanbul, the 69-year-old Kılıçdaroğlu walked alone for the final kilometer of the “justice march.”

The final day of walking started at 4:30 p.m. and Kılıçdaroğlu walked with a banner reading “Justice,” similar to the previous days.

Some 15,000 police officers were on duty to provide security of the march, according to Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin.

Throughout the course of the march, Kılıçdaroğlu and supporters have been accompanied by police teams, and they entered the Istanbul provincial boundaries on July 7.

Service buses were provided to those wanting to attend the rally from over 950 neighborhoods in Istanbul, according to CHP Istanbul district head Cemal Canpolat. The total number of vehicles reserved to transport the attendants was announced as 3,000.

Security forces in the area started to accept attendees under tight security measures, with those who wanted to enter the area going through four security checkpoints.

In addition to the CHP, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and many labor unions, including the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) and the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), attended the rally.

Only Turkish flags, banners reading “Justice” and pictures of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, were allowed in the area upon the request of Kılıçdaroğlu, who said they would consider those not following the rules to be “provocateurs.”

“Rights, law, justice,” was the most frequently chanted slogan during the rally.

The stage, 80 meters in length and 20 meters in depth, also carried a giant poster reading “Justice” and two giant screens, six sound systems were also set up.

Meanwhile, the party also displayed what it claimed to be the “world’s biggest petition” for jailed journalists and academics in Turkey, alongside a picture of Lady Justice.

The giant petition, whose writing process started on July 8, demanded an end to the state of emergency, as well as a review of “unjust and illegal” judicial rulings. A map of Turkey was shown under the petition with the signature: “We are Turkey.”

Speaking before the start of the rally, CHP Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu said “the rally hosted people outside of the CHP’s institutional identity, from all over Turkey.”

“The country won’t become a bed of roses with this march. We have a wall in front of us. But with this march and rally, we have taken a brick out of that wall and we will continue to do so,” Tanrıkulu told the Hürriyet Daily News, vowing that “civil protest methods will continue.”

“Starting from tomorrow, we will continue our civilian protest methods with our district heads, parties, institutions and individuals who supported this march using shared wisdom,” he said.

The “justice march” was praised by Kati Piri, the rapporteur for Turkey at the European Parliament, who described as “historic” the July 9 rally “attended by nearly 2 million people who stand up for justice.”

Police stopped entry to the meeting area, saying it was full, while tens of thousands of people were still waiting outside, some of whom opted to watch Kılıçdaroğlu speech in cafes nearby. (Source VOA and Hurriyet Daily News – Istanbul).


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