1.6 Million People in Attendance at Pro-democracy Rally in Istanbul

Published July 10th, 2017 - 09:10 GMT
Sunday's Justice March has drawn some support from other factions and parties. (AFP)
Sunday's Justice March has drawn some support from other factions and parties. (AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Istanbul Sunday at the conclusion of a 400-kilometre pro-democracy march, with Turkey's main opposition leader demanding an end to the state of emergency and a reversal of the post-coup purge.

After 25 days on the move, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP), reached Sunday's demonstration in the Maltepe quarter of the Turkish city, where he later addressed the masses.

CHP lawmaker Ozgur Ozel said 1.6 million people attended the rally, according to CNN Turk.

Some 15,000 police have been deployed, the local broadcaster reported, citing the governor of Istanbul.

"We walked for justice that does not exist," Kilicdaroglu said in his speech.

"We walked for the civil servants fired unjustly by decree. ... We walked because we are against the one-man regime," the opposition leader added, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.

Almost one year after a faction of Turkey's military tried to assume control of the country, the rally was seen as an attempt by the opposition to wrest back the narrative from Erdogan - who critics say used the coup as an opportunity to crush opponents and solidify his power.

Kilicdaroglu said he had marched in honour of the tens of thousands jailed and many more who have been purged from the civil service following the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

In the biggest public display of opposition since the coup, Sunday's crowd - a mixture of young and old, male and female - responded with chants of "rights, law and justice," the main slogan of the march.

Some protesters fainted in the 35-degree heat, while others took part in traditional Anatolian folk dancing, giving the event a festival atmosphere in places.

"I want justice for my children's future," 44-year-old factory worker Nurettin told dpa, adding that the march should unite the opposition.

"We are sick and tired of oppression, let equality prevail for all," said Ayse, who is 63 and retired.

Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the putsch, which Ankara has blamed on Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

In his speech, Kilicdaroglu demanded that those academics and civil servants purged on suspicion of links to Gulen - who has denied any involvement in the plot - be allowed to return to their jobs.

He also demanded the release of jailed journalists and called a recent referendum to give the president greater powers "illegitimate."

"We live in an era of oppression," Kilicdaroglu added.

One man, who gave his name as Huseyin, said he had travelled from Ankara to protest the state of emergency. "We want peace," he said, adding: "I represent no political party.

"We want justice for those purged unjustly."

The so-called Justice March was triggered after a member of parliament from the CHP was jailed for 25 years for leaking information to a newspaper on weapons shipments to Syria.

The CHP described the imprisonment as the straw that broke the camel's back.

Erdogan has accused the CHP of "acting with the terrorist organizations," as he sought to discredit the peaceful march.

Setting off from Ankara on June 15, participants in the march walked some 20 kilometres a day in the searing heat of the summer to reach Istanbul.

Kilicdaroglu, a 69-year-old former civil servant, has been sharply critical of mass purges in Turkey, affecting some 120,000 civil servants, and the jailing of more than 50,000 people, including 165 media workers, by decrees issued under an ongoing state of emergency.

Ten members of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) have also been arrested since April's controversial referendum on presidential powers, in which Erdogan claimed victory.

Sunday's Justice March has drawn some support from other factions and parties.

© 2020 dpa GmbH

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