Huge Crowds Due at Turkish Pro-Democracy Rally to Radiate ‘unity’
Hundreds of thousands of people were on Sunday expected to join a pro-democracy rally in Istanbul, bringing to an end three weeks of demonstrations in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the failed July 15 coup.
Followers of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have taken to the streets every night since the failed putsch that claimed at least 273 lives including 34 coup plotters.
The grand “Democracy and Martyrs” rally on Istanbul’s Yenikapi square on the shores of the Marmara Sea was due to be held at 1400 GMT under tight security with 15,000 police in charge.
Some media predicted that up to 3.5 million people could attend.
Yenikapi is the location often chosen by the Turkish leader for his party’s mass rallies, with huge crowds often thronging the square in a show of solidarity.
Prime Minister Binali Yılldırım has sent a circular to the party rank and file, saying that it would be a “supra-party” gathering and that no partisan slogans would be allowed in a bid to promote unity.
“The spirit of one nation, one flag, one homeland and one state will prevail throughout the rally,” he said warning against any provocation.
Only Turkish flags will be allowed at Sunday’s event, he noted.
A large section of VIP seats were reserved for families of those killed in the coup attempt.
Opposition leaders to attend
Erdoğan invited opposition leaders to address the crowds, except the pro-Kurdish HDP party.
The leader of one opposition party, the National Movement Party (MHP), said on Twitter he had accepted Erdoğan’s invitation to take part.
“I will stand on the side of Turkey against traitors and centres of hostility,” he wrote in a tweet retweeted by Erdoğan.
A Turkish government official said it was the first time the president had retweeted an opposition leader.
Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, head of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), initially refused to join the rally and said he would send representatives instead.
But after repeated invitations from Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the party decided on Friday that Kiliçdaroğlu would attend after all — because of “our commitment to democracy, our faith in the rule of law and our eternal respect for martyrs”.
Speaking to Turkish media on Saturday, Erdoğan thanked opposition leaders for agreeing to take part in the rally which he said would “embolden our unity”.
“Those who believe in democracy cannot be discouraged by tanks or cannons,” Erdoğan also said.
Turkey has accused reclusive US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup attempt which was led by a rogue faction in the military.
Erdogan has retaliated with a sweeping crackdown on alleged coup plotters.
Over 60,000 people from the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been dismissed, detained or put under investigation for suspected links to the Gülen movement.
From his base in the US state of Pennsylvania, Gülen has denied the charges.