Friday 15 December 2017

Turkish opposition leader completes 25-day 'March for Justice'

Thousands of people follow Kemal Kilicdaroglu (AP)
Thousands of people follow Kemal Kilicdaroglu (AP)

The leader of Turkey's main opposition party has completed his 25-day "March for Justice" and joined hundreds of thousands of supporters at a rally protesting against a large-scale government crackdown on opponents.

Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu led the 280-mile march from Ankara to Istanbul after a parliamentarian from his party was imprisoned in June.

The march grew into a protest against the massive crackdown on people with alleged links to terror groups that began after a coup attempt last summer.

"If only there was no need for this march and there was democracy, media freedoms, if civic society groups could freely express their opinions," Mr Kilicdaroglu said on Friday.

Once seen as feeble in his role as opposition leader, he has emerged as the voice of many Turks and been likened to India's Mahatma Gandhi, who led a non-violent march against British colonial practices.

Tens of thousands of people have joined him throughout his march in scorching heat, chanting "rights, law, justice".

Hundreds of thousands greeted him while waving Turkish flags and flags emblazoned with the word "justice".

Organisers said the event expressed "a collective, non-partisan desire for an independent and fair judicial system". No party flags or slogans were allowed on the march.

The government has accused Mr Kilicdaroglu of supporting terrorist groups through his protest. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is violating the law by attempting to influence the judiciary.

Turkey's definition of supporting terror is so broad that it has caused an impasse in the country's bid for European Union membership.

Parliamentarian Enis Berberoglu was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison for revealing state secrets for allegedly leaking footage to an opposition newspaper suggesting that Turkey's intelligence service had smuggled weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria.

In a New York Times article on Friday, Mr Kilicdaroglu called the case against Berberoglu "the last straw in a series of anti-democratic moves" by Mr Erdogan's government "targeting tens of thousands of Turkish citizens - politicians, journalists, academics, activists or ordinary citizens".

After last year's failed coup, the government imposed a state of emergency leading to the arrest of more than 50,000 people and the dismissal of 100,000 civil servants. A dozen legislators from the pro-Kurdish opposition party have also been jailed.

Ordinary citizens, sacked public employees and high-profile figures joined Mr Kilicdaroglu on his march, including n ovelist Asli Erdogan and leading Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk, both released from jail pending trial on various terror-related charges, and Yonca Sik, the wife of a prominent journalist currently in prison.

Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said 15,000 police officers were providing security at the post-march rally.

AP

Press Association

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