Turkey opposition chief vows to defy Erdogan 'threats'
Turkey's main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu vowed to press on with an intensifying campaign for justice in defiance of "threats" by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of ruling as a dictator.
Kilicdaroglu, head of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), told journalists in an interview that he believed that Erdogan feared his movement and consequently was attacking him in nearly every public speech.
The CHP leader, who analysts until now rarely saw as posing a major challenge to Erdogan, threw down a new gauntlet to the president this summer with a nearly month-long march complaining of injustice in Turkey in the wake of the July 15, 2016 failed coup bid.
This weekend, he kicked off a four-day "justice congress" highlighting violations in the unprecedented crackdown that followed the failed coup, in a bid to build on the momentum of that march.
"Let him (Erdogan) threaten as much as he wants, we are right. We will defend justice, democracy, judicial independence and media freedom to the end because we are right," said Kilicdaroglu. "He sees me as a threat. He is from time to time delivering speeches that contain threats but we will not be frightened off by their threats," the CHP leader said in front of his trailer at the outdoor event in the western Canakkale region.
Erdogan has lambasted Kilicdaroglu in speeches and even darkly hinted that the CHP chief could himself face judicial proceedings.
But Kilicdaroglu said this showed that "Erdogan is definitely shying away and scared of me."
He accused the Turkish president, who has dominated Turkey for almost one and a half decades as premier and head of state, of suffering from "Kilicdaroglu illness" due to nearly daily tirades targeting him. Kilicdaroglu is hoping the appeal of his justice movement will go well beyond the CHP and help create a united front against the president ahead of 2019 elections.
The stakes will be particularly high in the polls – Erdogan this April won a referendum on enhancing the powers of the presidency which critics fear give the head of state near authoritarian powers.
On the road with Turkey's march for justice
Ongoing purges and the jailing of elected officials recently spurred tens of thousands to march hundreds of kilometres from the Turkish capital Ankara to Istanbul. Diego Cupolo caught up with protesters on Highway D100
Protesters call for justice: tens of thousands of protesters make their way to Istanbul. The march is in response to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ongoing purges following last year's failed coup and was sparked when opposition party MP Enis Berberoglu was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The march kicked off three weeks ago in Turkey's capital Ankara and is headed to the prison in Istanbul where Berberoglu is held
Denouncing government crackdowns: leading the way is Kemal Kilicdaroglu (c), head of Turkey's main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), who has been likened to Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. Kilicdaroglu said there is no other way to denounce ongoing crackdowns and the deterioration of democratic institutions. "We feel like we're marching against a wall, and we're going to demolish it," he said
'Coalition against fascism': "it's our obligation to form a coalition against the nation's slide towards fascism," said Tur Yildiz Bicer, CHP deputy for the city of Manisa. "After the referendum, we told ourselves 'No, it's not over' … Now we are seeing that even some AKP supporters are backing our march and this shows people's minds are changing for the better." Some 20,000 to 40,000 people joined the march
'Rights, law, justice': one of the protesters is Vesyel Kilic, 65, from Rize, who said he voted for conservative parties until his son was jailed following last year's coup attempt. "It's been 12 months and he still doesn't have an indictment," Kilic said. "I want justice and I noticed this leftist ideology is close to my own, so I came out to support the march." Protesters here are demanding "rights, law, justice"
United against Erdogan? While the organisers with CHP said one of their main objectives was to unite opponents of Erdogan's agenda, the task will likely prove difficult as relations between Kemalists and Kurdish groups remain tepid due to the political risks involved in being affiliated with armed Kurdish movements. Above, marchers are shown resting in Tavsancil, Turkey, before continuing to Istanbul
Backlash from Erdogan supporters: protesters were often heckled and insulted by passing vehicles and crowds of Erdogan supporters who had gathered along the highway. "The march is not a fight for justice, it only brings shame to the people who are walking in this heat," said Umut Kaveci, 26, a transportation worker not pictured above. "They are just causing traffic [jams] and no one needs that"
Heavy security presence: policing levels were high throughout the march to deter possible attacks and altercations between groups of contrasting ideologies. For the most part, the protest proceeded smoothly, aside from occasional confrontations like this one, where an officer restrained a teenager and told him, "I've been walking with this march since Ankara and I haven't been aggressive with anyone. Don't test me"
Blisters and heat stroke: one of Kilicdaroglu's bodyguards gets his feet bandaged after another long day on the road. Blistered, swollen feet are common among marchers, as well as heat stroke. Temperatures surpassed 40 degrees Celsius in recent weeks and one protester died after suffering a heart attack during a prolonged uphill climb
Rough terrain: regardless of the obstacles, demonstrators have followed Kilicdaroglu's lead through Turkey's rough terrain. The march covers up to 20 km per day. By night, protesters either return to their homes or camp out on CHP funded campsites where they are provided with food and rudimentary shelter. Above, an exhausted protester sleeps in a dining tent in Tavsancil, just east of Istanbul
'Doing this for my grandchildren': Husnu Sucu, a 58-year-old retiree, said he remained undeterred after walking more than 120 km in eight days and was camping each night with the protesters. "I am doing this for my grandchildren," Sucu said. "We cannot let the current government continue doing what it wants without doing something about it. It is too dangerous for the future of our country"
Asked if his movement could put the Turkish president's career in jeopardy, Kilicdaroglu said: "Erdogan does not have a career. Do dictators have a career? Do coup plotters have a career?"
Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of staging a "civilian coup" in the crackdown which critics say has gone went well beyond the coup plotters and targeted all kinds of dissidents.
"Turkey is currently in a coup process. Parliament has been de-activated," Kilicdaroglu said. "They can seize assets or dismiss from the public sector whoever they want under a single decree. Can you call this democracy?"
More than 50,000 people have been arrested under Turkey's over year-long state of emergency imposed after the failed coup and almost three times that number have lost their jobs, including teachers, judges, soldiers and police officers.
Kilicdaroglu however said: "We are coming together in spite of all impossibilities and all barriers... We are all together speaking up for democracy and human rights. That is of course scaring him."
The government insists the crackdown is essential to deal with the national security threat posed by the coup bid, blamed on the U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who denies the charges.
Asked if he was scared of being arrested, Kilicdaroglu replied: "Never."
"We are the only party in Turkey that is doing most effective opposition against Erdogan. That is why he cannot tolerate our presence."
Kilicdaroglu did not comment on if he would run in the presidential polls but he said the CHP's candidate would "oppose the one-man regime and advocate a democratic parliamentary system."
Ankara's post-coup measures have led to an outpouring of global concern and set off alarm bells in Europe.
Kilicdaroglu said: "We need to fight for journalists in prison, dismissed university academics and teachers on hunger strike. We will do it, we are determined. Are there impediments ahead of us? There are more obstacles than you would think. But it is our duty to overcome them." (AFP)
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