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Turkey Opposition Chief Challenges Erdogan With 'Justice' Congress

Republican People's Party chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu condemned the crackdown as a "civilian coup" and said that the jailing of Enis Berberoglu "became the last straw."

AFP

Updated:August 26, 2017, 6:51 PM IST
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Turkey Opposition Chief Challenges Erdogan With 'Justice' Congress
File photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: Reuters)
Canakkale, Turkey: Turkey's main opposition leader on Saturday warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the whole country has a "thirst for justice", opening an unprecedented four-day meeting protesting alleged violations under his rule.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), is hoping the "justice congress" in the western Canakkale region will keep up the momentum of a month-long march highlighting judicial abuses in Turkey after the July 15 failed coup.

With politics heating up in Turkey even two years before the next elections, Erdogan will later on Saturday host a mass rally at the opposite end of the country marking the anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Malazgirt where pre-Ottoman tribes defeated the Byzantines.

More than 50,000 people have been arrested under Turkey's state of emergency, imposed after last year's failed coup, and almost three times that number have lost their jobs, including teachers, judges, soldiers and police officers.

"Eighty million have a thirst for justice," Kilicdaroglu said, referring to Turkey's population.

"It is my duty to seek justice. It is my duty to stand by the innocent and be against tyrants," he told some 10,000 people attending Saturday's event.

'The last straw'

Kilicdaroglu earlier this summer walked 450 kilometres (280 miles) from Istanbul to Ankara to protest against the sentencing of one of his MPs,

Under the simple slogan "justice", the march culminated last month in a huge rally in Istanbul that attracted hundreds of thousands, the biggest event staged by Erdogan's critics in years.

Kilicdaroglu condemned the crackdown as a "civilian coup" and said that the jailing of Berberoglu "became the last straw."

Referring to the jailing of journalists after the coup bid, Kilicdaroglu said: "You cannot talk about law, rights and justice in a country where more than 150 journalists are in prison."

The pick of the region for the CHP congress is also significant as it was the site of the World War I Battle of Gallipoli where the Ottoman army successfully repelled Allied forces.

The CHP was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was a Turkish commander in the Gallipoli campaign where the heroism of Turkish troops is said to have helped lay the foundation of the modern republic.

In a relaxed atmosphere, supporters pitched tents under shady woods to be their homes for the duration of the four-day congress which will have special sessions on different kinds of rights abuses.

"I hope the congress will help raise awareness for a justice which does not exist in Turkey right now," said Kismet Seyhan Aydin, from the Aegean city of Izmir, a CHP stronghold.

"I believe it will be a new start for the justice to be restored," she added.

Kemal Barisik, having breakfast outside his tent wearing a hat with the justice slogan said: "I believe that Kilicdaroglu is capable of restoring justice. Before the justice march, people did not have faith."

'Worrying about my vest'

Erdogan won an April referendum boosting his powers but Turkey is already in the throes of what appears to be a long election campaign, heading to November 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Turkish president, who is already signalling he will stand for another term, has urged the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to get in better shape for the election fight.

In a sign of the rancour between the two men, a photo depicting the CHP leader wearing a white undershirt while dining in a trailer during the justice march drew a sharp response from Erdogan.

The mildly-spoken Kilicdaroglu is sometimes compared by supporters to the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, and Erdogan took particular offence at a newspaper headline describing him as "citizen Kemal".

Kilicdaroglu responded that Erdogan needed to address the "country's problems" instead of "bothering with my vest from morning to evening".

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