Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, gather during a mass rally after the last stage of a protest march from Ankara to Istanbul.
Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, gather during a mass rally after the last stage of a protest march from Ankara to Istanbul. REPUBLICAN PEOPLE'S PARTY / HAND

Turkish opposition pulls huge crowd

HUNDREDS of thousands of people have joined a rally in Istanbul at the end of a 25-day "march for justice” against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu led the 450km walk from Ankara to Istanbul after his deputy leader was sentenced last month to 25 years jail after he allegedly leaked documents to a newspaper suggesting the Turkish government had armed jihadists in Syria.

Mr Erdogan claims to be cracking down against those who support militant organisations, but after last year's failed coup, the government imposed a state of emergency and arrested 50,000 civil servants, journalists, campaigners and other workers and sacked more than 100,000 others.

He has spearheaded a large-scale crackdown on opponents and was granted sweeping new powers following a controversial referendum in April.

Mr Kilicdaroglu told the crowd - estimated at two million by one European Parliament observer - that the finish of his march from Ankara marked not the end, but the beginning of a campaign to break down "the walls of fear.”.

"We walked for academics dismissed from universities. We marched for those dismissed from their public duties, for child workers, for villagers, for jailed and lynched soldiers,” he said.

"We walked for justice that we lack. We walked for the right of the oppressed, the jailed deputies and journalists.”

Mr Kilicdaroglu told Reuters his three-week march had helped Turks "cast off a shirt of fear” since emergency rule was imposed.

The 68-year-old attracted modest support in the early stages of his march, but numbers swelled in the final days, with hundreds of thousands carrying banners and the Turkish flag as they demanded "rights, law, justice”.

Parliamentarian Enis Berberoglu was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison after he allegedly leaked documents to an opposition newspaper suggesting the Turkish government had armed jihadists in Syria.

Mr Kilicdaroglu has called the case against Mr Berberoglu "the last straw in a series of anti-democratic moves” by the government "targeting tens of thousands of Turkish citizens - politicians, journalists, academics, activists or ordinary citizens”.

The detention of human rights activists and leading journalists has drawn international condemnation and damaged the country's bid to join the European Union. - Rachel Roberts, INM and staff writers



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