A 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.
People were waving Turkish national flags, holding aloft “justice” banners in Turkish, while chanting “rights, law, justice!”
Photos and videos of the event showed huge crowds on the streets of Istanbul.
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.
“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.
“Why did we march?” Kilicdaroglu began, as reported by AP. “We walked for the non-existent justice. We walked for the rights of the oppressed, for the imprisoned lawmakers, the jailed journalists… We walked for the academics, who were thrown out of universities.”
Kilicdaroglu started his march on June 14 as an MP representing his party and a former journalist, Enis Berberoglu, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for revealing state secrets after he allegedly leaked footage showing the Turkish intelligence service smuggling weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria to an opposition newspaper.
Kilicdaroglu’s initiative drew only moderate support at first, but eventually, thousands joined in his march and walked alongside him in scorching heat while many thousands more gathered in Istanbul to greet him.
“The era we live in is a dictatorship,” Kilicdaroglu said, as cited by Reuters.
“We will be breaking down the walls of fear,” he added. The opposition MP said the march and the rally were just the first step in a long campaign for justice.
“No one should think the end of this march is the end. This march was our first step,” Kilicdaroglu said, speaking outside the Maltepe prison, where Berberoglu is currently held. The politician also called on judges and prosecutors to act independently according to their “conscience” rather than in line with the wishes of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “palace.”
“We want the state of emergency to be removed and for Turkey to normalize,” Kilicdaroglu said, as cited by AP. “We want politics kept out of the judiciary, the (army) barracks and of mosques. We want a neutral and independent justice. We want a Turkey where journalists are not jailed.”
Earlier, Erdogan accused Kilicdaroglu of anti-government bias and supporting the “terrorists” who staged the armed coup attempt.
“If you start protests to protect terrorists and those who support terrorism – when it did not occur to you to take part in anti-terror demonstrations – then you cannot convince anyone that your objective is justice,” the Turkish president said on July 1, as cited by AFP.
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.